Tag Archives: books

Book Prizes: more than just a celebration of fantastic literature

I read such a sad, yet inspiring Feature article in the London Evening Standard today. James Ashton told of how he had lost his three-year-old son due to an undetected heart condition a year ago and how he had set up a book prize, entitled Oscar’s First Book Prize, in his son’s memory.

Ashton describes in the article how Oscar had such a unique and vivid imagination and how this inspired him to set up the Book Prize. Ashton states:

Our sim it to find the best pre-school book of the year that celebrates a child’s love for magical stories, something that would have satisfied Oscar’s vivid imagination.

The Prize has been set up by the Evening Standard and Waitrose. The winner shall be the “best first book for children aged five or under published in 2013” and shall be awarded £5,000. It is thought that Oscar’s mother; Viveka Alvestrand; the chief executive of Waitrose, Mark Price; former CEO of Pearson, Marjorie Scardino and the deputy editor for the Evening Standard, Charlotte Ross shall judge the entries with the winner being announced in May 2014.

Evidently, this shows that Book Prizes are not just about celebrating outstanding works of Literature, but people themselves. It can celebrate culture, history, memories, and as Ashton states: imagination. When you look deeply into things, to me it’s almost as if the Prize has been launched to portray the fact that Oscar will live on through the imagination within the winning book. Ashton states in the article how he imagines what Oscar would be like were he alive, therefore portraying that Book Prizes are also incredibly important.

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The generation of tomorrow and the “embarrassment” of books.

Liz Bury  wrote a worrying, yet interesting, article on The Guardian‘s website yesterday (4th October 2013) revealing results from the 2012 Annual Literacy Survey which the National Literacy Trust carried out. ‘Books are deemed a thing of the past by YouTube generation of readers’ – the ’embarrassment’ of books means that children are watching more YouTube videos instead.

It was reported that since 2005, there has been a 25% decrease in the amount of children who read outside school. The National Literacy Trust’s survey included approx. 35,000 young people, and it was thought that almost a third of children aged between eight and 16 do not read any text-based media in their leisure time. In the space of 7 years, the percentage of children who claimed to have read in their own time was down around 10% (38.1% in 2005, compared with 28.4% in 2012).

It is thought that one of the main causes of this is ’embarrassment’. 16.6% of young people said that they “would be embarrassed if their friends saw them read” in the 2010 study; this increased to 21.5% in the 2012 study. Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said that it “is a significant social and cultural trend which needs to be addressed”.

I understand that whilst growing up, children and teenagers constantly feel that they need to ‘fit in’; I remember feeling like that in my younger years. Although I never felt that reading was deemed ‘uncool’ and was certainly not ’embarrassing’. It is harder to accept that this is how children of today feel about reading, particularly given that I never personally experienced this when I was a child. (Perhaps it was because I grew up in the 90’s, before the internet boom??) Saying this, I can only imagine that with the surge in social media sites, YouTube, Vine, and video-based communication, such as Skype, it is a lot easier for children to choose to communicate/search the web through videos as opposed to writing. Douglas mentioned the original thought was that “children’s reading was migrating from print to digital, […] that they were reading ebooks. But […] they are consuming information in ways that do not involve reading or writing text”.

So, what is being done to encourage children to read?

  • The National Literacy Trust has launched a campaign to promote reading whereby children and adults must nominate their reading hero.
  • Children’s laureate Malorie Blackman, author of Noughts & Crosses, has recently announced a campaign to support Young Adult fiction in the UK with a YA Literature Convention which will happen in London, summer 2013 (article from The Bookseller).
  • Whilst I have a rather biased negative view regarding Amazon, I have to say that their recent advertisement for their Kindle device is fantastic in encouraging children to read (despite the fact that they are encouraging children to read in electronic form as opposed to print form – I definitely think that needs to be the opposite way around, but still, I guess it is a start??):
  • As I mentioned in a previous post about library closures affecting children’s literacy, organisations such as the Voices for the Library are trying to promote libraries and shows that, despite the closures, there are still many opportunities for libraries in the future.

It will be interesting to see the results which come from the next study generated from the National Literacy Trust so we can see whether there has been any change in statistics (hopefully, for the better!) Certainly, it would be fantastic to see if any of the points I mentioned above may help the cause and hopefully make children aware that reading is not embarrassing, but can be a great experience.


Man Booker: to go Stateside, or to not go Stateside?

That is the question on everyone’s lips as newspapers and bloggers speculated whether or not the Man Booker Prize will be extended to American authors in 2014. Whilst the decision will remain undecided until Wednesday (18th) of this week, it hasn’t stopped the likes of The Guardian and The Bookseller reporting the possibility of the rule change to one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes.

For the past 45 years, the Man Booker Prize has recognised the works of authors in the UK, Ireland and other countries of the Commonwealth. Extending the Prize out to authors across the pond has received mixed opinions. Writer/broadcaster Melvin Bragg compared the possible change to “a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate”. The main concern is that allowing American writers to be a part of the prize will drastically diminish the award’s identity and its link with Britain.

On the other hand, allowing the Booker to go Stateside will ensure that the Prize receives more recognition internationally. Scott Pack, Me And My Big Mouth, wrote a good piece outlining 10 points about the move and pointed out that the USA is the only English-speaking country which isn’t currently included in the Man Booker. Pack also suggests that the Man Booker could end up stealing “some of the Baileys Prize or Orange Prize’s thunder” as they already include writers from the USA in addition to other worldwide authors.  Michael Bhaskar has also written a piece on The Bookseller: Keep it special‘ speculating his thoughts on the possible change.

I have mixed feelings about the possible change. I can see how it could be beneficial to the Prize itself in terms of promoting writing from undiscovered authors and small independent publishers. But on the other hand, the Man Booker Prize creates a sense of identity in British literature. The world is so inundated with global products, corporations, organisations etc. that I feel they can sometimes become disenfranchised to the point where people may actually lose interest. I personally believe that people like to find the undiscovered and I feel that the Man Booker Prize could still appeal to new people without the help of American authors.  Moreover, there are already other prizes (such as those mentioned previously) which credits American authors and their writing, so why not keep the Man Booker the way it is?

More on this on Wednesday when the decision will be finalised… In the meantime, here is a list of this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist and reasons why it’s the best shortlist in a decade…

  • NoViolet Bulawayo We Need New Names (Chatto)

    Photo from The Guardian

    Photo from The Guardian

  • Eleanor Catton The Luminaries (Granta)
  • Jim Crace Harvest (Picador)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowland (Bloomsbury)
  • Ruth Ozeki A Tale for the Time Being (Canongate)
  • Colm Toibin The Testament of Mary (Viking)

And so begins the biggest ever promotion of bookshops: Books Are My Bag!

Saturday 14th September marks one of the biggest promotions of bookshops in bookselling history. Books Are My Bag played a prominent presence at this year’s London Book Fair in April where the hype to yesterday’s launch began.

Photo from HarperCollins' website

Photo from HarperCollins’ website

The campaign is to celebrate bookshops across the country and to encourage people to support their local bookshop; whether it be a small independent or one of the national chains. Statistics on the BAMB website shows that ‘56% of all book buying decisions are in fact decided in a bookshop’. Consumers do not always know what they are after until they find it whilst browsing in a bookshop. Certainly, it seems that mortar-and-bricks bookshops are the way to discover new books that perhaps you hadn’t thought of buying before.

In an article by The Bookseller last week, CEO of the Booksellers Association, Tom Godfray, said that the UK would “wake up to a sea of orange” as booksellers across the country prepared their stores and events during the week. Of course, a big promotional event cannot be without iconic merchandise, and for the event, merchandise came in the form of Books Are My Bag tote bags designed by advertising firm, M & C Saatchi; inspired by Lord Saatchi’s Brutal Simplicity of Thought.

To add to the hype, the event was promoted by a media launch at Foyles in London on 9th September, where high-profile figures such as: Amanda Holden, Andrew Marr, Alan Johnson, Sebastian Faulks and Marian Keyes, attended in support of the event.

The promotion is set to run until 31st December 2013.

I personally feel that the BAMB promotion is a fantastic event in which to highlight our bookshops to the public. With new digital technologies, as well as the rise of online retailers, high street booksellers have slowly been dying out; particularly independents. Many booksellers already host an array of events such as author talks to entice customers over the threshold. One thing that did surprise me, however, was on looking at Waterstones’ website, there is no reference of the BAMB campaign on their main page. There is mention of BAMB on the blog section of their website, but what if the customer does not look at that section? Wouldn’t it be a good idea if bookshops’ websites had the BAMB logo somewhere on their homepages?

Of course, the campaign has been thoroughly popular on social media sites, such as Twitter. #booksaremybag was trending on the launch day, with hundreds of posts from independent and chain booksellers posting pictures of their events, and many customers tweeting about their purchases.  It will be great to see how much of an impact the campaign will have on high street bookshops and whether it will entice customers to use their local bookshop more often.

@booksaremybag


The Library of the Future: “All about books. All about learning.”

Birmingham has introduced a brand new £189m library in Centenary Square and been deemed ‘a people’s palace’ by its architects. Gone are the days of the old creaking floors and slightly dusty shelves of an old, traditional library, it seems.

Picture by Charlie Bibby

Picture by Charlie Bibby

The new eco-friendly design has been built in a way to depict Birmingham’s industrial revolution of earlier years, whilst also keeping to a futurist and modern theme.

The BBC has posted a video tour of the new building on their website. Brian Gambles, Director of the library, emphasised the fact that the new library is a “fusion of digital and physical is essential to the vision of the library”. The interactive technology, including more than 200 public access computers where the public can interact with the various collections, and 20 large-scale multimedia walls means that the public can “engage with new collections in new and different ways”.

Certainly the theme of interaction is also enhanced with the library’s ‘Discovery Pavillion’, which includes 18 week programmes of ‘creative residencies’ where new library users can experience creative practices such as bookbinding and animation. In addition to this are specific pieces in the library which are part of the Pavillion where certain collections and spaces are highlighted to the public.

Surely, this new library stands at the  forefront of the future for libraries? It will be interesting to see what happens to our libraries following this change. However, there is speculation from The Library Campaign that by 2016, 1000 libraries will be closed. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has stated that 349 libraries have closed down since 2009. With the proposed local government budget cuts in 2015/16, it is therefore thought that an additional 340 libraries will close (Figures taken from The Guardian). While the new opening is great for the public in and around Birmingham, what about the rest of the country? It can be assumed that the majority of major cities and towns across the UK will have access to a good library facility, however, it is the smaller communities across the country which may suffer if their local library is closed.

Although the new library emphasises its connection with digital – encouraging users to discover and interact on a new scale – it is clear that the printed book is still at the heart of its development. 350,000 books are available to the public, 43,000 of which are situated in the Shakespeare Memorial Room. The room, originally built in 1882, was taken apart from the old building and rebuilt piece-by-piece into the new development. I like the thought that physical books are still the focus of developments like this. It shows that even though the book industry is undergoing momentous change, the familiar and the traditional is not forgotten; almost as if the industry is keen to hold on to its origins (something which I highly agree with).

Although, at its core, the library is fundamentally grounded in enhancing the printed book, the building’s modern appearance and facilities has deemed it a ‘super library‘, joining international libraries across the globe, including the Seattle Central Library (USA), Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico), Kanazawa Umimirai (Japan) and, Spijkenisse Book Mountain (Netherlands).

From what I gather, the reaction to Birmingham’s new ‘super library’ has been positive. It bodes well for the future of books across all aspects of the industry. I feel that as long as the industry as a whole continues to grow almost as a hybrid model (embracing digital, yet not forgetting its physical roots), then the industry will continue to flourish.


Kindle Matchbook: is Amazon’s brand new programme another blow to booksellers?

Amazon is launching a new scheme which could potentially pose yet another threat to other booksellers. IPG’s Children’s Publisher of the Year award winner, Nosy Crow, posted an article on their blog today, informing people of the internet of Amazon’s latest programme: Kindle Matchbook.

The new programme will only be available for customers in the USA and will allow customers to purchase former print purchases, but in ebook form for a reduced price of $2.99, $1.99, $0.99 or for free.

Whilst this will undoubtedly be great for those avid Amazon regulars, Tom at Nosy Crow commented on the fact that ebooks will be devalued as a result and we shall return to past arguments that consumers will come to expect books (whether ‘e’ or print form) to be low in price, thus they will be less inclined to buy books at a greater price from their local bookseller on the high street. On the other hand, the question of whether customers will want to buy another copy of a book which they already have is debatable. In addition, Nosy Crow’s blog article speculates the fact that consumers will be more likely to buy print books from Amazon so they can get the ebook version at a cheaper rate (or in some cases, for free); however, surely Amazon will be selling their products at a loss rather than at a profit (which of course then makes less of a profit for publishers).

The main question is: how will this affect mortar-and-bricks booksellers (or other online retailers for that matter)?

Certainly, it is apparent that booksellers are changing the way they practice bookselling to stay in touch with its customers. And in comparison with Amazon, it is without a doubt that they offer a greater service to customers. A knowledgeable and enthusiastic sales assistant in a bookshop is by far better than a pop-up post on a website. As Nosy Crow’s post suggests: mortar-and-bricks retailers’ main products are print books, whereas retailers such as Amazon are trying to make ebooks their greatest product; therefore if booksellers were to introduce a programme or scheme equivalent to Kindle Matchbook, booksellers technically would not make a loss, as their main sellers are physical books.

Looking at the positive side, I think it can definitely be assumed that Amazon’s new venture will provide booksellers with an opportunity to develop further and therefore create an ever better experience for its customers. Yes, it is a shame that bookshops are having to drastically adapt and change to stay alive in the current industry, but publishing as a whole is not the only industry changing out there. In addition, the programme does specify that it is only available in the USA at the moment. In a way, it can be said that this gives British booksellers an advantage (and a head start)! Game on, is what I say!


A ‘digital-first’ future for publishing?

Whilst carrying out my regular scouring of the internet for anything publishing related, I came across the term digital-first. On looking more into the term, it appears that many publishers are looking to release new titles in digital format only, in order to predict as to whether the book can sell well in print format. Some of the first publishers to trial this new concept are HarperCollins and Harlequin.

The former announced earlier this year that mystery line, Witness Impulse, would be one of the first lines which the publisher would release digital-first. The first ten titles shall be released in October under the imprint, William Morrow.

Dan Mallory, the man behind the line noted that digital-first publishing was the most effective way to market unknown books and authors. He also highlighted that the launch involved libraries as they aim to deliver titles through ebook loans. Shawn Nicholls, marketing director for Impulse (an imprint of Morrow), mentioned that digital-first is ‘part of a larger branding campaign to build sales for midlist authors overall and to help readers discover’.

As  my previous blog entry suggests, discovering books through digital formats, i.e. the internet in particular, will become easier with apps such as BookVibe. Integration with digital is increasingly becoming a part of everybody’s daily life. Should ‘digital-first’ be embraced by more publishers in the future, it can be suggested that browsing for books online will become easier. (Now don’t even get me started on what this will mean for bricks-and-mortar booksellers!)