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In an inspirational end of year letter to authors and illustrators, Hachette UK CEO David Shelley talks about the positive impact of creativity to people’s lives in a year “like no other”.
“I wanted to say an enormous thank you to all of you for your cultural contribution to the world at this tough time. I try to avoid being political in missives such as this, but when creatives are being urged to retrain and do other, more practical jobs, I would argue that I have seen so much tangible evidence of the positive impact that creativity has on people’s lives, and I think the world has more need of art now than at most points in recent history.”
He observes that international sales have been mixed during the year, but UK sales from June onwards were strong. Although sales in Australia increased because there were fewer lockdowns, he says New Zealand and India were “hit hard” by warehouses being closed. “Ireland, too, saw a hit in terms of sales. In the Far East, Middle East and Europe, we saw patchy sales with peaks and troughs depending on the lockdowns in those regions, but, pleasingly, these evened out across the year to a fairly normal rate of sales.”
The news was more positive in the UK where a “lacklustre” April was followed by a much better May and a “a surprisingly buoyant summer”. He writes: “Every month from June onwards has been better than the equivalent month last year. This was highly surprising to begin with, given that, although supermarkets remained open throughout, physical bookshops were closed until the start of July. But consumers flocked online – not just to Amazon, but also to Waterstones, W H Smith and independent bookshops, many of whom experienced an uptick in online sales in the hundreds or even thousands of percent. Thanks in part to the heroic efforts of publicists across the industry, there was also excellent coverage of books in the media during this time, with suggestions about lockdown reading. There were also some brilliant online events which often attracted huge crowds, and which many of you participated in.”
In a wide-ranging letter he also mentions the Black Lives Matter movement which led to the publisher putting more energy into its Changing the Story diversity programme “to help quantify and improve representation for Black writers, illustrators, translators and publishing professionals, and to do our part to help bring about positive change in our industry”.
He ends his letter by expressing sentiments with which everyone in the book business would agree. He writes: “It has been a year like no other, and a very challenging one in so many ways. Throughout it, I have gained a huge amount of solace, wisdom, knowledge and joy from the books that you have written, translated and illustrated. I have also read so many heart-warming emails and messages from people who have been helped through this annus horribilis by your words and your illustrations…
“Our mission here is to help find the widest possible audience for your work and after the experience of this year, it is clear that there are ever-growing numbers of people around the world who want to read your books, and who will go a long way to seek them out. I feel very energised and excited about this and pledge we will do all we can to keep finding new readers for you.”