As London Heads Into Lockdown, Good Cheer From Charkin: Chin Up

In News by Porter Anderson

‘Those hours not spent commuting’ are on Richard Charkin’s list, as he tots up reasons ‘the world of books and publishing can look forward with a degree of optimism.’

On Oxford Street in London, October 7. Image – iStockphoto: VV Shots

Editor’s note: Richard Charkin comes to you today as England goes into its second national coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown, scheduled to last for four weeks. Wales and Northern Ireland are in temporary lockdowns. Scotland is using a five-tiered program of coronavirus restrictions.  And as our British colleagues re-enter confinement, the BBC has checked in with shoppers stocking up. Many of them are talking Christmas.–Porter Anderson

By Richard Charkin | @RCharkin

‘Creativity Saved’
There are plenty of reasons to feel a bit blue right now.

In Europe, as in the Americas, the clocks went back an hour to signify the official beginning of long nights and shorter days, although why we need to have this semiannual dislocation in the 21st century is beyond me.

Richard Charkin

In addition, from a publishing perspective, we were unable physically to welcome the new season at Frankfurt Book Fair. And of course, there’s the resurgence of the coronavirus COVID-19 around the world and its implications not just for the health of hundreds of millions but also for the economic, mental, and social impact on everybody.

However, while I’m not a poet or a musician of the caliber of Ian Dury and his Blockheads, I can think of some reasons for why in the world of books and publishing we can look forward with a degree of optimism.

  • The travel, hospitality, and live performance industries—and perhaps many others—may take years to recover but publishers have been reporting excellent numbers. See, for instance, my old firm Bloomsbury’s interim results. This is not an exception. Nearly every public statement from publishers has been positive in one respect or another.
  • The temporary closure of many bookstores and the consequent loss of traditional sales has been compensated by initiatives from those bookstores—either through e-commerce platforms or home delivery—and by Internet retailers selling both print and digital books.
  • The lockdowns have underscored what we have always suspected: The publishing industry is both resilient and innovative. It has withstood attacks from radio, television, and now social media, and it uses these new competitors as allies in the constant search for new readers and new writers.
  • And the quality of publishing is higher now than ever. Sure, there are the not-so-posh celebrity memoirs that are occasionally embarrassing, but the number of serious, informative, and enjoyable nonfiction titles in history, philosophy, economics, and more is huge and growing.

While the world wakes up to the injustices of racial and gender discrimination, books have become a principal route to understanding the issues and developing objective and useful debate.

‘We Can Afford To Be More Cheerful’

There’s probably right now more social polarization than at any time I can remember. What has happened? Political books dominate the bestseller lists and challenge leading politicians who want to suppress them. Freedom to publish has been strengthened, particularly in United States, by publishers standing up for their authors’ freedom of expression.

“The pressure now to have less office space in city centers is irresistible.”Richard Charkin

It’s cheering to see major and smaller publishers dedicating time and effort to improve our environmental footprint. We need to do so much more to eliminate waste, destruction of forests, pointless carbon-generating journeys for books and people but that’s now on all our agendas and so much the better.

And finally, the plague has proved to cynics like me that working from home can be as productive or more so than commuting to an office every day. The creativity saved by those hours not spent commuting is immeasurable, and the pressure now to have less office space in city centers is irresistible. Hooray.

All these reasons to be cheerful—and I’m sure there are many I’ve missed including a resurgence in poetry—are there because of the creativity and diligence of the community of writers and illustrators, and because of the existence and maintenance of copyright legislation.

That’s why we can afford to be more cheerful than other industries.

Outdoor pub and restaurant seating on Old Compton Street in London, September 11. Image – iStockphoto: VV Shots

Join us monthly for Richard Charkin’s latest column. More coverage of his work from Publishing Perspectives is here. More from us on political books is here, more on nonfiction is here, more on the freedom to publish is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the world publishing industry is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.