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Comment from the book world in December 2008

December 2008

'This wonderful tool for self-knowledge'

22 December 2008

'This wonderful tool for self-knowledge'

'Culture, as I have said, belongs to us all, to all humankind. But in order for this to be true, everyone must be given equal access to culture. The book, however old-fashioned it may be, is the ideal tool. It is practical, easy to handle, economical. It does not require any particular technological prowess, and keeps well in any climate.

Its only flaw--and this is where I would like to address publishers in particular--is that in a great number of countries it is still very difficult to gain access to books. In Mauritius the price of a novel or a collection of poetry is equivalent to a sizeable portion of the family budget. In Africa, Southeast Asia, Mexico, or the South Sea Islands, books remain an inaccessible luxury. And yet remedies to this situation do exist.

Joint publication with the developing countries, the establishment of funds for lending libraries and bookmobiles, and, overall, greater attention to requests from and works in so-called minority languages--which are often clearly in the majority--would enable literature to continue to be this wonderful tool for self-knowledge, for the discovery of others, and for listening to the concert of humankind, in all the rich variety of its themes and modulations.'

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature, in his Nobel lecture

Full lecture

Fewer books, more money

15 December 2008

'I think every year we sell fewer books, but every time we do sell a book now it's for more money. Publishers are happier to spend more because buying a small book means you have small expectations. It's not necessarily a bad thing. What is more marked this year is that it takes longer for publishers to make decisions than it used to, and there is a little less room for flexibility than there was.'

Simon Trewin of United AgentsClick for United Agents Agents References listing in the Bookseller

Indigenous children's literature

8 December 2008

'Cultural identity, it could be argued, is best developed like a language, at an early age. Children can absorb these ideas before they are corrupted by the prejudices and complications of the adult world... In the face of increasing homogenisation of global culture, it is important that every opportunity is taken to allow publishers to support and sustain indigenous children's literature.'

Maria Dickenson in her Dublin Notes in the late lamented Publishing News

'Too big, too costly'

1 December 2008

'The very cost of some of the superstructures necessary for global giants may be one of the causes of increasingly homogenous publishing. If publishers have to deliver a profit margin sufficient to pay for it all, they may be driven to produce certain types of books that seem to promise large rewards when they succeed, but which also involve huge advances and, usually, huge risk of failure too - for evidence see the current outpouring of celebrity books for Christmas.

When these big international groups were formed, there were obvious synergies to be found. But once you have centralised the accounting function, closed a few warehouses and built a newer, bigger and more modern one and amalgamated sales forces, is there much more cost cutting that can be done?

The mood of the times is changing. There is a return to be made from publishing good books but perhaps not sufficient to pay for atriums and limousines. Could it be that some conglomerates are just too big, too costly and no longer offer value for money?'

Clare Alexander, agent at Aitken Alexander AssociatesAccepts fiction and non-fiction. No plays or scripts., in the Bookseller