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The end of an era

4 August 2008

The closure of Publishing News on 25 July marked the end of an era in book trade journalism. MD Jo Henry and editor Liz Thomson thought they had a year to try to turn it round, but time was called after nine months, due to the relentlessly declining advertising revenues.

Founded 29 years ago by Fred Newman and Clive Labovitch, the magazine has always provided a challenge to the UK book trade establishment, in the form of The Bookseller, which coincidentally celebrated its 150th anniversary a few weeks ago.

But Publishing News always took a different approach. Regarded at first as a bit of a rag, it was more fun to read than its august rival, up-to-the-minute, slightly irreverent and fleeter of foot. It was really directed at publishing rather than booksellers, so always had a more personal, less institutional feeling about it, as well as all the best gossip.

There has really been no exact equivalent to PN in any other publishing market, although perhaps Publishers' Lunch brought something of the same irreverence to an Internet generation, but with nothing like the coverage that PN had as a full print magazine. American publishing has suffered from the lack of anything other than the rather staid Publishers' Weekly. UK readers will mourn PN's passing because the two magazines read together gave a fuller view.

Fred Newman, writing in the final issue, should have the last word:

'So whatever else PN may have been, it was never dull or boring. Its journalism reflected what I felt a good trade paper should be doing: writing about the personalities and events that were being talked about, and digging more deeply into the major issues that demanded informed analysis and interpretation...

Of course we did not always get it right, and from time to time we inadvertently offended somebody, although there were some people all too easily offended...

The closure of Publishing News was a sad and difficult decision to make. The staff who have worked on PN, and not least myself, have a considerable emotional investment and commitment to the publication but, over the past 29 years, there have been enormous changes in the book industry. Its "village" days are long over and gone, and the element of trust that once existed between publishers and booksellers has been greatly eroded. Much of the fun has been dissipated as the book business has been forced to respond to the brutalities of conglomeration and globalisation, which have been the inevitable consequence of the drive for greater efficiency.

PN has been a casualty of these changes, and of the multiplicity of ways in which books are now promoted and sold. The trade press has lost its role as the prime channel for major publishers to promote their titles to booksellers. These are seismic shifts that were never even dreamed about when PN was launched. True, there were those who at the time said "it would never last". Well, it's taken nearly 30 years for them to be proved right.'