Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
From The Sunday Times June 15, 2008 How the Richard & Judy Book Club has shaken publishing A phenomenon of daytime telly has killed the literary snob. And about time, too
In 2002, Jonathan Cape published Joseph O’Connor’s novel Star of the Sea. It was highly regarded, and by January 2004 had sold 14,000 copies in paperback. Then it became one of the 10 books on the Richard & Judy Book Club’s first list. It sold out.
Unsure of the demand, Cape printed another 15,000. It then found it had back orders for 75,000. The book finally sold 600,000 copies. “It was,” says Dan Franklin, head of the publisher, “a revelation.”
Franklin admits that, like many other “literary snobs”, he had regarded the start of a book club by daytime television’s supernormal couple with mild derision and not-so-mild scepticism. The audience didn’t read and, if they did, they restricted themselves to Jeffrey Archer and ghosted packs of lies by barely human celebrities.
O’Connor’s, however, was a real book, as were others on that list - William Dalrymple, Alice Sebold - and R&J were shifting them like Tesco burgers. In fact, they were shifting them on a scale unprecedented in the long and undistinguished history of book-promotion scams. They were changing the entire market.
Four years and many real books later, the R&J Book Club accounts for 26% of the sales of the top 100 books in the UK, and Amanda Ross, the club’s creator and book selector, is the most powerful player in British publishing. Now, though, the club faces a crisis. Richard & Judy are ending their early-evening run on Channel 4 and moving to a new UKTV channel. Can the club survive the shift from a terrestrial to a cable channel?