A Difficult Mothering Sunday

10 Mar 2013 at 20:45

Those who lose loved ones dread ‘firsts’. The first birthday without them. The first anniversary of their death. The first Christmas. Today was the first Mother’s Day my sisters and I have spent without our beloved mother, Jane. She died on June 9th last year. Not a day goes by without her entering my thoughts. The tears are streaming as I write this. Esther Rantzen recently said she would give ten years of her life for ten more minutes with her husband Desmond. I know exactly how she feels. There’s a special bind between a mother and a son and there have been so many occasions over the last nine months when I would have given anything to be able to pick up the phone and talk to her about things that had happened.

I still can’t quite come to terms with the fact that she’s gone. I want to be able to ring her after my first Drivetime show tomorrow and for her to tell me how brilliantly I have done, even if I haven’t. But I won’t be able to. I want her to come and stay in our new house in Norfolk, somewhere she loved. But she can’t. I’d love to have a faith which allowed me to really believe that her spirit lives on and she is watching over me. But I don’t.

So to those of you whose mothers are still with us, cherish them. If you haven’t spoken to your mother today, it’s not too late. Pick up the phone. Tell her you love her, even if you find that sort of thing difficult. One day it may be too late.

I was lucky. My mum knew how much I loved her. I told her repeatedly. My sisters and I count ourselves as blessed that we had her for a mother. No child could have ever wished for a better mother. And today we remember her with so much love and warmth.

Now, where’s that Kleenex?



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Video: Speech to the Microsoft Politics & Technology Forum, Sydney

Hosted by Microsoft in Sydney, Australia

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UK Politics

Jo Shaw: A Principled Resignation

10 Mar 2013 at 18:55

This morning on my LBC Sunday morning show (only two of those left – sob) I interviewed Jo Shaw. Who? I hear you cry. Well until this morning she was LibDem parliamentary candidate for Holborn & St Pancras. This evening she isn’t. She isn’t even a party member any longer.

You see Jo Shaw has had the courage to stick up for her principles. She has run a LibDem campaign designed to persuade their MPs to vote against secret courts. It must have been galling for her to discover that only seven LibDem MPs had the courage of her principles. So this morning she quit her party in disgust, and she did it with style during a speech to her party’s Spring conference.

I remain profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of secret courts. The concept seems to go against the very idea of open and transparent British justice. Secret courts seem to be to be the property of dictators and despots. What is it about politicians that the most devoted civil libertarians in opposition, seem to be quite happy to impose the most draconianly authoritarian of measures when in government? As David Davis said earlier…

Clegg’s position on secret courts is about most unprincipled thing I have ever seen. Gladstone must be spinning in his grave

Quite. So when I interviewed Jo Shaw I was rather sorry for her. Years of campaigning for her party have been for nothing. It took some guts to do what she did today. And she should be proud of herself.

UPDATE: Caron Lindsay has a good take on Jo Shaw’s resignation HERE



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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Ray Davies

Kinks frontman Ray Davies talks to Iain about all things American and his life in music.

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UK Politics

May the Force be With Theresa?

9 Mar 2013 at 21:43

It’s a mark of how much trouble Number Ten is in that a speech like one Theresa May gave this afternoon at the ConservativeHome conference is automatically interpreted as a bold leadership bid. Back in November Tim Montgomerie asked her to close his Victory 2015 conference. Unless he’s a soothsayer he couldn’t possibly have imagined that the planets would have come together in such perfect leadership harmony. Why does it suddenly feel a tad like 1989?

So what’s in it? Is David Cameron in danger? Clearly not. Not yet. Nick Boles was spot on in this morning’s Times when he said…

“The overwhelming majority of my fellow MPs understand that David Cameron’s leadership and a record of governing responsibly offers us the best chance of persuading the voters to give us an overall majority in 2015, but a few malcontents — most of them sitting on big majorities — seem willing to risk letting Labour back in by indulging their ideological obsessions. I just wish they would listen to those MPs elected in 2010 in very marginal seats who want them to shut up.

“People who voted for UKIP at Eastleigh think of themselves as more left wing than Conservative, so what a great success that was. We shouldn’t try to compete on the right with them. It is clear that some more noisy [Tory MPs] have been trying to peddle their own agenda and I suspect some have a malign desire to destabilise David Cameron and George Osborne. But I sense there are a lot of sensible people thinking, ‘I went to Eastleigh and I didn’t recognise the party I thought I had been elected to’ .”

Well that was a good bitch-slap to Grant Shapps.

I doubt if many Tories could say they were 100% happy with David Cameron, but that’s par for the course with any Tory leader. I don’t detect any great move against Cameron even though there are certainly rumblings among the usual suspects on the authoritarian right. They will probably get louder after what will be a disaster in the May county council elections, and the Number Ten machine (if it can be called that) needs to get its ducks in a row to anticipate what might happen.

Up until now, Cameron hasn’t really faced any meaningful leadership chatter, partly because the Party have been happy to tolerate a leader who they thought would bring them electoral success, even though they knew he treated his own party with an air of disdain. But there seems to be a growing narrative that Cameron can’t win an overall majority at the next election. Today’s Ashcroft poll which shows only 7% of Tories believing in a majority plays into that. This is very dangerous for Cameron’s leadership.

His saving grace has always been the lack of an alternative. One right wing friend of mine puts it like this…

Davis too lazy, Gove too odd/Scottish, Hague too bald/unsound, Osborne c**t, Fox finished, Villiers useless, Greening unstable, Hammond charisma-bypass, Hunt goggle-eyed, Boris is Fabricant without the common sense and as reliable as a Reliant Robin, May risible.

Cutting. I will resist the temptation to analyse each of those conclusions, you will be disappointed to hear, but I do think that the next leader of the Conservative Party is possibly not even in the Cabinet, or even a Minister yet. However, let’s turn to Mrs May.

Matthew D’Ancona writes in tomorrow’s Telegraph that it will be the Cabinet which decides Cameron’s fate.

What we are observing now is not a full-blown oligarchic mutiny but a loosening of the ties of loyalty: behaviour that does not presuppose certain electoral defeat in 2015 but presumes its likelihood. Some of this conduct is ideological: ensuring that differences of opinion with the pilot are recorded in the black box before the plane crashes… I do not believe for a second that either Hammond or May is preparing for a leadership race before the election. But each is trying on for size the vestments of the dauphin, strutting a little more, displaying a little more independence and public confidence.

I have no idea whether Theresa May is on manoeuvres or not. It wouldn’t be unknown for senior politicians to fly kites and this may well be what’s happening at the moment. And perhaps with good reason. Many Tories think that she has been quite a success in the Home Office, a department which has been notoriously difficult to handle. Indeed, in opposition she rarely put a foot wrong. Ah, you say, but what about the ‘Nasty Party’ incident at the 2003 party conference? To some this means she should be permanently disqualified from leading the party, to others she was a Cameroon before David Cameron. She identified the problem which has bedevilled the Conservative Party, and I believe still does. People just don’t like it. As Party Chairman she built on work already started by David Davis to recruit more female candidates. She realised that Tory candidates were rather too white, male and middle class. David Cameron may have implemented the A List but it was an idea firmly rooted in Theresa May’s legacy as party chairman.

But Theresa May suffers from two possibly fatal flaws. Firstly, she hasn’t got a natural constituency in Parliament. There aren’t a whole host of MPs known as ‘Mayans’, who are ready to install phonelines at the first available opportunity. On the other hand, she has few enemies, and as David Davis could testify, that’s quite important. But secondly, and possibly more importantly, apart from being a moderniser, no one has the slightest idea what she believes in. That’s why today’s speech at the ConservativeHome conference was important. It’s the first time Theresa May has allowed us into her mind. Her supporters, were we to know who they were, would no doubt tell us that few people knew what Margaret Thatcher believed in before she was elected leader in 1974.

Theresa May knows that if she has leadership ambitions, she will need to appeal to the Tory right. Cynics will no doubt point to her apparent willingness for Britain to withdraw from the ECHR as evidence of that. It smacks of Cameron’s populist move in 2005 to promise to withdraw the Tories from the EPP. He knew it wouldn’t be quite as simple as that, but it shored up the Eurosceptic vote at the expense of David Davis. The same boneheads who believed Cameron will no doubt fall for Theresa May’s wheeze.

I rather like Theresa May. Apart from her excellent fashion sense and her taste in cars (she and her very nice husband Philip are fellow Audi lovers), I like the fact that after 15 years in Parliament she has decided to step forward and assert herself rather than just obey the latest leader she has served under. I have no idea what the consequences are, but let’s face it, it’s about time Boris Johnson had some competition in the next Tory leader stakes.



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Iain Hosts a Discussion on Suicide After Clarke Carlisle Tries to Take His Own Life

An emotional discussion

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Feel Good Video of the Day No 1

9 Mar 2013 at 14:06

Make sure you watch this till the very last second. I defy you not to roar with laughter.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to David Owen & Ruth Winstone

Ruth Winstone talks about EVENTS DEAR BOY EVENTS and David Owen discusses EUROPE RESTRICTURED.

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Paddy Ashdown

9 Mar 2013 at 13:32

I’m sure that you, like me, have often told children and grandchildren that it’s not the winning that matters, it’s the taking part. Well let me let you into a little secret. That’s bollocks.

Paddy Ashdown, addressing the LibDem conference in Brighton, 9 Mar 2013



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Bob Marshall-Andrews

Former Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews discusses his autobiography.

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UK Politics

Will the Media Now Take UKIP Seriously?

8 Mar 2013 at 17:39

George W Bush’s greatest political asset was that his opponents, especially in Europe, continually underestimated him. Nigel Farage enjoys the same advantage. His enemies view him as a spiv who, in the end, will be found out. It’s very lazy thinking.

The news that Farage has had dinner with Rupert Murdoch is a clear sign that Ukip and its leader have climbed the next step on the political path to respectability and to being taken seriously. Next stop, brunch with Alan Rusbridger. Or possibly not.

Farage is one of the wiliest tacticians in modern-day politics. He has almost single-handedly transformed a rag, tag and bobtail party into an effective political campaigning force. Slowly but surely, it is losing the image of being the BNP in blazers, full of older men who were disgusted and hailed from Tunbridge Wells. It now has the largest and most active youth movement in British politics, and it is slowly but surely becoming feminised. Its last two byelection candidates have been very impressive women, who should now be taking on a much wider role in the party.

Farage has enemies – many of whom have been fellow MEPs who have defected. Today’s Guardian contains allegations of financial impropriety by former Ukip MEPs Nikki Sinclaire and Marta Andreasen. I suspect Farage will dismiss them with a wave of the hand and without further thought.

Politicians on the left and right don’t seem to understand that Ukip is on the march. Eastleigh was no one-off. They are the new Liberal Democrats, in that they have become the dustbin of British politics. By that I mean that they are now receiving the protest votes that used to go to the Lib Dems. Labour and the Lib Dems continue to assume that Ukip supporters are almost always disaffected Conservatives. That has never been true, and Lord Ashcroft’s post-Eastleigh poll proved it. If Ukip can mobilise the anti-politics vote that seems to be growing every day it could make very fast progress indeed. I have no hesitation in predicting that it will come at least second in the 2014 European elections, and there’s a distinct possibility that it could even top the poll.

But that is more than a year away. Between now and then, Nigel Farage needs to achieve several things. He needs to encourage the media to interview Ukip representatives other than himself. He should make his Eastleigh candidate, Diane James, deputy party leader. A full slate of county council candidates needs to be fielded, and they need to poll well, and finally he needs to ensure that his party’s European candidate selection procedures are overhauled to ensure that the number of flaky candidates is reduced next time out.

One thing is sure. If Farage screws up in any way at all, he will be jumped on by the media. He and his party are about to be scrutinised like never before. He needs to make a gradual transformation from the bloke in the pub that’s the life and soul of the party to become a wise old owl who people feel they can trust. No one is suggesting that Ukip can become a party of government, but it needs to start looking like a party which can be trusted with the levers of power. The media will then take it more seriously, broadcasters will give it more airtime, and in 10 years’ time, who knows?

_*This article originally appeared on Comment is Free



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Interview with Sir Nicholas Soames on Winston Churchill

25 minutes with Nick Soames on the 50th anniversary of his grandfather's funeral

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Guardian Media Podcast

8 Mar 2013 at 10:15

Yesterday I was a guest on the Guardian Media Podcast with John Plunkett, Roy Greenslade and Matt Deegan. I talk about blogging and my new LBC Drivetime show.

You can listen by clicking HERE. My bit starts at 8 mins 45 and finished at 19 mins 30.



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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Geoffrey Robertson QC

Geoffrey Robertson talks about his new book on Stephen Ward.

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Twenty Four Hours

7 Mar 2013 at 18:48

This is my very odd life at the moment. Today has been the oddest for a long time. It’s panned out like this…

1am Arrive at Crowne Plaza, Chipping Norton, which turns out not to be in Chipping Norton. Hence it took an hour to find.
8am File my Eastern Daily Press column
930am Substitute for Vince Cable delivering the keynote speech at the Independent Publishers Guild conference in Chipping Norton
12pm Collect Ebay purchase of a Parliament picture signed by Major’s cabinet from Henley on Thames
2pm Record piece for tonight’s Newsnight on Bonnie Tyler’s Eurovision song
4pm Record this week’s Guardian Media Podcast with John Plunkett
5pm Record promos for my new LBC Drivetime programme
7pm Present my last LBC evening show
10pm Drive home to Tunbridge Wells

It’s a funny life, but I love it :)


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Video: Iain Interviews John Penrose MP

From the Class of 2005 series on 18 Doughty Street

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The Threats and Opportunities Facing Independent Publishers

7 Mar 2013 at 15:59

This morning I gave the keynote speech to 300 independent publishers at the annual conference of the Independent Publishers Guild, at a hotel near Chipping Norton. I was a late substitute for Vince Cable. It turned out to be quite an event. I wouldn’t normally publish the entire text of a speech on here, but after the reaction of people there, I thought it would be useful to do so. Afterwards people collared an kept thanking me for having the courage to say what had to be said. They were referring to the passages on W H Smith and Amazon. If you don’t want to wade through the whole thing, click HERE for a summary of what the book industry media are reporting. I suspect I have become public enemy one at W H Smith, but read on, and you will discover why…

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that originally Vince Cable was due to speak to you in this slot. I apologise profusely that you’ve got me. I believe this conference is taking place in David Cameron’s constituency; indeed his home is just up the road. I don’t know if he has declared the area a Liberal Democrat Free Zone or not, but I will try to emulate Mr Cable’s customary cheery personality and joie de vivre. Or not, as the case may be. I understand he has a subsequent engagement and is spending the day undermining the Prime Minister

Back in 1997 I did something mad. I took my first steps into the book trade. My partner and I opened up a specialist political book store in the heart of Westminster called Politico’s. It became a political haven and soon established itself as a meeting and event space, visited by Cabinet ministers and casual book buyers alike.

This was a time when the publishing industry and bookselling were flying high. The days when ex cabinet ministers were getting 6 figure advances for their memoirs. I enjoyed my time as a bookseller and it taught me a lot, but in 2004, after 7 years, a massive rent hike forced us to close shop and go online. Two years later I sold the online shop to Harriman House, only to buy it back last year but I’ll talk about that later.

Then I attempted to become a Conservative MP which I will readily admit was not my greatest triumph! Thankfully my ventures into blogging, broadcasting and business have been somewhat more successful. But my passion for books led me to return to the industry in 2009, when I set up my own publishing house Biteback Publishing specialising in political and current affairs titles.

Now that I’ve been running Biteback for 4 years I have re-discovered just what a bonkers industry publishing really is – and how much it has changed in the last decade.
Which other industry discounts its bestsellers rather than books that don’t sell? To coin a phrase, it’s the economics of the madhouse. Don’t even get me started on sale or return! From its structures to its pricing policy, the publishing market is an utterly unique industry. And you know, frankly, in some ways we only have ourselves to blame for the fact that the leading booksellers seem to have us over a barrel. Well, let me qualify that. It’s actually the big publishing conglomerates who are to blame for the parlous state some smaller publishers find themselves in.

It is the likes of Penguin, HarperCollins, Macmillan and the others who have introduced discounting policies which have led to bestsellers being sold at a loss. What kind of market is it where a small independent bookseller goes down to Sainsbury’s and loads up his shopping cart because he can buy the books more cheaply from Sainsbury’s than he can from the publisher? What kind of market is it where the two main wholesales are generally given lower discounts than Amazon?

It means that smaller bookshops can’t afford to sell bestsellers. OK, you might say that it means they can have a much wider range of books for sale and they can build their own local niches. But new titles and bestsellers ought to be making up a large part of a small bookshop’s turnover. No wonder they are going out of business at the rate of several every week.

Publishing is no different to any other industry – it is having to adapt to a changing world.

Just 5 years ago no one had ever heard of a Kindle never mind owned one. Now for every 100 physical books Amazon sell, they sell 114 e-books. Waterstones sales are on the decline and all the other chains have disappeard. Amazon’s sales have grown exponentially. For too long Waterstones failed to grasp what was happening and they failed to adapt to the online revolution. Instead of attempting to understand this, it simply charged huge prices to publishers to out their books its window or on its tables, and filled the shop with stationary.

Since its takeover in 2011 by Alexander Mamut it is beginning to correct the failings of the past. James Daunt has come in, and has made some radical changes. Scrapping the 3 for 2 offers, incorporating more cafes, introducing click and collect, and most controversially changing its buying policy to reduce returns. To say I’m not a fan of the new buying policy would be an understatement, but in some ways I understand it. Instead of ordering 800 copies of a new title, they now order 100 or 200 or fewer. Whereas a few years ago they would place the order months before publication, which helped us decide print runs, now the order is sometimes not placed until AFTER publication. Fewer risks are being taken, and by their own admission they have become reactive rather than proactive.

I could give you countless examples of why I’m not a fan, but I’ll give you just one. I published last year a book called Muckraker which was a biography of the first tabloid journalist WT Stead. That book got glowing lead reviews in nearly every single national newspaper and would later go on to win Political Biography of the Year at the Political Book Awards, yet Waterstones agreed to take on only 49 copies. It had sold several hundred copies on Amazon before it had even reached the shelves of Waterstones!
Overnight, some publishers’ turnover with Waterstone’s was cut by one third, without any warning at all. The one positive long term effect of this will be to cut returns and that has to be a good thing. In 2011 we had £15,000 of returns from Waterstone’s. Last year we had £900.

I remember ten years ago I created astonishment in the book trade when I proposed the abolition of Sale or Return. Well, now I reckon I was 10 years ahead of my time. The day is coming when we will the end of it. Booksellers have the freedom to their knowledge and expertise to decide which books they really think they can sell. I’d happily forego a bit more margin if books were sold on a firm sale basis. Yes, it would cut print runs initially, and might take some time to bed down, but in the long run we’re deluding ourselves if we think Sale or Return is a good thing or can survive indefinitely. But no one small publisher will ever break out and impose firm sale by themselves. It’s something which the industry needs to agree on, ideally in cooperation with booksellers.

Waterstones simply has to survive. It is now the only national high street bookseller or bookselling chain. It would be a tragedy if it went the same way as Borders, HMV and the others. But as publishers we’d be mad if we didn’t plan for a post Waterstone’s environment. We need to think of far more innovative ways to get our books to market and market them directly to book buyers. Yes, I am afraid that all publishers are going to have to become booksellers.

Waterstones have to work out a way of avoiding just becoming a shop front for Amazon. The number of people who go into Waterstones, write down the ISBN and then go home and buy the book from Amazon is growing all the time. I have no idea what can be done about it, but that is the challenge facing all bricks and mortar booksellers.
The relationship between publishers and booksellers should be a harmonious one; after all we both rely on each other to survive. But increasingly for many years it has become a battle to even get our books into the stores, especially for independent publishers. Then when you do get books in, you face the prospect of massive returns. Of all the booksellers the worst culprit has to be WH Smith, who seem to be very willing to take publishers money and sell no books in return.

Whenever I have done business with W H Smith they demand a large ”marketing fee” – some might call it the book trade industry equivalent of protection money – to place our books in their stores. A few months later we get between 75% and 90% of our books returned in boxes that have never been opened! WH Smith has become nothing more than an exorbitantly priced warehouse for books, or as I have heard many people refer to them as “a lending library”.

Its business practices are wrong and it is no friend of small independent publishers. What serious, ethical company allows big publishers to buy a place on their bestselling books chart? And that’s what they do. And by doing it they deliberately mislead their customers. The customers assume it really is chart of their bestselling books, when it is actually nothing of the sort. Many will say I am mad to break the conspiracy of silence on these business practices, which have gone on for years. We all know they are going on. Quite frankly I have reached a point where I am totally ambivalent about doing business with WH Smith ever again. After hearing this, they probably think the same about doing business with me, but quite frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn.

Now to the elephant in the room, Amazon. They have transformed the booktrade more than any other, sometimes for the good and sometimes not. Their colossal size means they have a monopoly over internet bookselling. You can’t blame them. They are brilliant at what they do. They sell books cheaper than anyone else and are totally reliable. You order a book from them and you KNOW it will arrive when they say it is going to. Things very rarely go wrong.

And they do give smaller publishers like us a choice. Never let it be said they don’t. And the choice is sell your books to us at 60% discount, or we won’t take any of them at all. They are able to do it because we, individually, aren’t strong enough to say no, and because the competition rules allow them to. I wouldn’t mind if they actually paid any tax on the profits they make at our expense. But that’s another story.

To tackle the Behemoth that is Amazon the big publishers have started to merge. The Random House/Penguin merger happened for many reasons, but one of the main was to have some clout against Amazon, and rumour has it Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins will go the same way.

So the question we are left with is this: Is Amazon unassailable? The answer is absolutely not.

We are currently experiencing a kickback in this country. Not just on books, but on all retail practices. When it was revealed that Starbucks were avoiding taxation, they experienced retaliation from their customers who shopped elsewhere, they were forced to cave in and pay some tax. This proved that even the biggest global conglomerates, will never be as powerful as the buying public. From the horsemeat scandal which rocked the supermarkets, to the tax fiasco of Starbucks and Amazon, people are starting to question their own buying habits, and ask themselves who they can really trust. Independent bookshops before Christmas experienced a real upturn in trade from people who had previously been Amazon customers. The challenge now is to keep them.

I believe that we independent publishers operate by good business practice and this is our chance for us to say this is who we are. This is what we do. This is why you should buy from us. Let’s not kid ourselves, we can’t compete on price with Amazon and we should be honest about that. But we need to make it clear to our customers what they get from shopping with an independent publisher.

There are many reasons why Amazon has failed to become a publisher itself, despite many low profile attempts. Firstly, bookshops are unwilling to stock books published by a company which has systematically tried to destroy them. Secondly, they are crap at presentation. If you want to browse for books, you very rarely go to Amazon. Thirdly, despite their huge size they do not understand the publishing industry – we are not simply printers.

However we are living in an age where people are increasingly choosing to self-publish, where agents themselves are turning into publishers. If we independent publishers are going to survive against this onslaught of challenges we need to show what we can provide. What value we add to the publishing experience. In many ways we are better equipped than the big publishers to deal with the changing market, and showing both authors and customers what we offer. Small independent publishers don’t have numerous committees and layers of management, we can make decisions fast. Most importantly with a small team you can adapt quickly to the changing market.

Our size means we offer authors a personal yet professional service. Unlike big publishers our authors can get to know our staff, they are able to communicate with everyone from the MD to the publicity assistant. I’ve lost count of the bigger name authors we now attract in part because they are fed up with being taken for granted by the bigger publishers. But there’s another reason smaller, independent publishers are attracting authors with bigger names. It’s because the big publishers now rarely publish books they think will sell fewer than 10,000 copies. This is a real opportunity for all of us in this room. As a consequence, agents are having to accept smaller advances and more realistic high discount terms.

Yes, even literary agents, who generally seem to love living in the last century, even literary agents are having to recognise that the terms of trade have changed. Smaller publishers are able to play hardball with agents, in a way we never could before. And boy does it feel good. Publishing really has to be a partnership between agent and author, with the author now taking more of the risk by accepting that the days of big advances have gone.

This personal experience should also extend to our customers. Although the book industry itself is huge and diverse, we independent publishers generally have quite specific areas of interest. This means that we are able to build communities focussing around that particular subject. By providing customers with the content and information they want you build a stronger more loyal relationship with them.

To use a personal example, as I mentioned I bought back my old online store last year. It aims to collect the widest selection of political titles all into one easily navigated site – not just our own but from other publishers too. We fulfil our own books, Gardners do the rest.

It has created a community of political book lovers who interact with the site and tell us what books they would like to see on there. Key for us as a publisher it has brought our target audience to us and we are able to substantially discount our own books and still make a decent profit by becoming booksellers in our own right. This is just one way that I have attempted to exploit the niche and build better relationships with our customers. In today’s fast paced market you can’t simply sit back and wait for customers, you need to go out there and find them yourselves.

Also as we are more specialist than the Big Four we are very familiar with our audience, it means we can better market a book directly at that target audience. Moreover for the author they can also be directly involved with marketing ideas and plans because of the personal nature. Meaning they learn how to create promotional opportunities themselves. We instruct all of our authors on how to market their books themselves on social media. So much so that Edwina Currie, whose second volume of diaries we published, started trolling her enemies on her first day on Twitter.

Our small team at Biteback have also managed to build up personal relationships with all the leading national newspaper literary editors. Not only does this ensure we can punch above our weight when it comes to coverage of a book, it has allowed us to become a serious player when it comes to serialising a book.

Independent publishers should not be afraid to try different things. When even traditional dinosaur-like literary agents are changing and beginning to diversify, we should also be trying our hand at different things. I suppose if this was a farming conference I’d be calling this diversification. But in truth it is important that we diversify what we do. Let’s offer e-book only publications, or even stage some events. Just last month I put on the Political Book Awards, it had been 6 months in the making and it wasn’t easy. It meant a lot of the staff at Biteback had to do things they had never done before but it was a huge success both in terms of publicity but also financially. Now we are going to embark on staging more events from literary lunches to meet the author events, anyway to get closer to our target audience. So don’t be scared to step outside your comfort zone, some of the best ideas come from thinking outside the box.

Remember there are always different ways to get a book to market, other than the traditional bookstore or Amazon. Big publishers have been hit hardest by the change in Waterstones buying policy because their books are so general they rely on impulse purchases. This is where we independent publishers are able to hold our ground, by discovering new ways to get our material to the customer. The best and most obvious way is via social media. It is fatal mistake for any publisher not to have a website, Facebook page and Twitter account. You need to make yourselves known to your audience, interact with them, and engage with what they want.

There are some wonderful examples of entrepreneurial enterprise in our industry. Look at what Andrew Franklin has achieved at Profile – or Robert Topping with his fantastic Ely bookshop. But for entrepreneurs to succeed, they need access to capital. Biteback is a four years old this year, and it will have taken us four years to make a profit. Publishing is not a fast-buck industry. Some might say it’s often not even a slow buck industry, but there you go. I make no bones about it. If we had borrowed money from the banks whe we started, they would have closed us down by now. But because we had a financial backer, Lord Ashcroft who understood the industry, kew what we wanted to achieve and had confidence in us to do so. I like to think we are repaying his confidence, but what about all those companies and individuals who don’t have kind of backer we do? It’s a major problem that our financial sector, unlike that in Germany or America, only has its sights set on the short term. I know the IPG holds Meet the Investor evenings, bringing the publishing trade together with potential investors. It’s a great initiative which other sectors would do well to copy.

The next few years are going to continue to be tough for us small independent publishers. I don’t believe the doomsday prophets who claim it is the end of independent publishers and the physical book. We need to restate exactly what publishing is all about. It is so much more than simply printing books. So we need to create those communities, we need to try new things, we need to embrace e-books. But most importantly our customers need to be at the heart of everything we do. If we do that, the story of the independent publisher will be one of not only survival but growth.


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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale's Tribute to Sir Simon Milton

Sir Simon Milton's death saddened the whole of London. Iain pays tribute to him.

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Anonymous Radio Presenter

6 Mar 2013 at 20:01

Essentially all [Radio presenter] Talent is insecure, paranoid and delusional. If they’re not when they start, the system will ensure they become so. Treat them as you would a confused elderly relative: with kindness and care. After all, you sent them nuts.

Anonymous Radio Presenter, 6 Mar 2013



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