By Roger Tagholm
As difficult weeks for parent companies go, the one just past would take some beating for News Corp, owners of HarperCollins. The UK papers have been full of stories about the phone hacking scandal at the Murdoch-owned News of the World, and there is certainly more to come.
All of which meant that, as guests arrived at HarperCollins annual pre-London Book Fair party at Home House in Central London -– the former home of British spy, Anthony Blunt, incidentally –- even the publisher’s global President, Brian Murray, had to admit with a weary smile: “I’ve just been reading about it.” It was the lead story in Sunday’s Observer, so hard to avoid.
The publisher is not implicated in any way of course, but is simply watching with a degree of embarrassment from the sidelines. However, one insider did express this concern: “There is still a certain amount of anti-Murdoch feeling out there and this scandal is just the sort of thing that might make an author choose someone else rather than us. If everything else was equal, it might be this which would cause them to change their mind.”
But it didn’t stop a splendid party. HarperCollins UK CEO Victoria Barnsley has long wanted to make this event the UK equivalent of the Hachette group’s Frankfurt ‘opener’ at the Hessischer Hof, and she has succeeded admirably. Once again, the publisher was blessed with glorious early summer sunshine and the garden of the elegant Georgian house was packed, transformed into a mini-LBF.
Carole Tonkinson, Publisher at Harper NonFiction, was in positive mood, having recently signed the memoirs of British actor Derek Jacobi, founder member of London’s National Theatre. “It’s all about ‘event publishing’ now,” she told Publishing Perspectives. “We’re going to take Derek on tour and we’ll stream it to cinemas and there’ll be a podcast and an app. It will be similar to what happened with Stephen Fry. It’s the sort of thing that was talked about at the digital conference earlier today –- how publishers can make themselves heard above the noise.”