In the context of Joanna Cabot’s recent post asking “Would Anyone Care About the Amazon/Hachette Dispute If it Wasn’t About Books?”, it’s worth picking up the editorial “Disinterested? Moi?” by Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, about the primacy of the book. “It is the books that should do the talking, not the publisher,” he declares. “Publishers may make books, but it is the books that maketh the business.”

Few actual authors would disagree with that. Jones follows with the creed he came into the job with: “my job was to support the book. We could be rude about publishers, booksellers, librarians and even authors, but the bias towards books was unimpeachable. The thinking was not wholly disinterested. So long as the book existed—in whatever format—there would be an industry around it.”

That might lead one to expect an even-handed approach to Big Five publishing, Amazon, self-publishing, digital disruption, authors’ rights versus publishers’ commercial priorities, etc. etc. After all, even the self-published book could give The Bookseller an industry of some form to support, in theory. Has The Bookseller lived up to that?

In some ways, yes. Jones came personally on board behind David Gaughran’s campaign against the Penguin Random House Author Solutions vanity press author-gouging platform, declaring that: “The Bookseller is no longer taking advertising from Author Solutions or its subsidiary companies.” That’s a very big public move for a trade publication to take, and directly against the leading Big Five publisher.

That said, The Bookseller also gives very prominent and uncritical coverage to the anti-Amazon camp in the Amazon/Hachette faceoff. It also provides a platform for traditional industry paper tigers like showrooming to be let off the leash. And self-publishing, to my mind at least, is still not given anything like the space it deserves in The Bookseller coverage. After all, the trend may militate against the interests of The Bookseller‘s constituency of … er, booksellers, but it is definitely all about the book, and if anyone is in a position to educate and assist with the transition to the post-digital book world, rather than protest and complain, The Bookseller is.

Jones concludes with a reminder and a salutary warning about why the book business in all its incarnations has enjoyed state and international backing, and public support. “Regarding books as commodities risks losing something along the way,” he says. “But here’s the rub. This only works if the industry lives up to its values. The book business needs to deliver on the promise held within each and every title. Book first, disinterested never.”

Do the Big Five publishers live up to that? Does The Bookseller? Opinion invited.


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