David Laws makes the case for social recovery

  • November 22, 2010 13:55
  • Katy Scholes

David Laws has today written an article for the Daily Telegraph which sets out his vision for the coalition government in balancing economic austerity with social recovery.

In the article, Laws calls for the coalition to avoid being pinned as a government of cuts, and states that while social recovery is a greater challenge in the current environment – it is no less important.

“Liberals in both Coalition parties cannot tolerate a Britain in which life chances are still so determined by parental income. Britain increasingly prides itself on being a meritocracy, but – as in the US – we remain a meritocracy where the chances of acquiring merit are hopelessly unequal.”

In the piece, entitled "The coalition must aim higher than merely balancing the books"; David uses his experience at the heart of the coalition government to warn of the potential long-term damages that could come from neglecting public services.

David Laws was a key architect of the coalition government, the formation of which he recounts in brilliant and fascinating detail his new book 22 Days in May – out today in paperback and e-book format priced £9.99 and £4.60, respectively.

Of the book, David Laws said today:

“The formation of the Coalition was an important moment in British politics, and I want to help ensure that an accurate and complete account of this is set down, before memories fade, myths grow and evidence is lost.”


Your coalition book Kindle editions are here!

  • November 18, 2010 10:45
  • Katy Scholes

Biteback is proud to announce, after much fanfare, the arrival of both 22 Days in May by David Laws and 5 Days to Power by Rob Wilson to pre-order as Kindle e-books! They're priced on www.amazon.co.uk at £4.60.

The publication date of the e-books is 22 Nov, although Rob Wilson's 5 Days to Power is available now in paperback, priced £9.99.

5 Days to Power gives the first full account of the negotiations that led to the political earthquake of a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government.

22 Days in May is the first detailed insider account of the negotiations which led to the formation of the Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition government in May 2010, along with an essential description of the early days of the government.


We Ate All The [Mince] Pies

  • November 17, 2010 12:31
  • Katy Scholes

For most in London, the commute into work is a mixed bag of good and bad moments. The brilliance of having half an hour to read your book, getting a bit of a walk with some fresh air to help you wake up and the finding of a lost classic on your iPod can be undermined by overcrowded trains that make reading significantly less relaxing, torrential rain or the freezing cold and an iPod that runs out of battery the moment you leave the house. Today, rather unusually, it was getting both a free yakult and small cup of Starbucks gingerbread latte, the surprise and joy of which was spoilt by spilling the latte on my book, part of an effort to put on my scarf without upsetting my iPod headphones as I walked to the Biteback offices.

(Is my day that tragically fragile that a free yakult can sway the whole thing? Who cares, I got the yakult! It’s going to be a good day.)

The real tragedy is that, what with having put a gingerbready stain across many of the pages of John Nicholson’s We Ate All The Pies: How Football swallowed Britain whole, I can now no longer give it to my Dad for Christmas. Before the attack of the latte, giving the book as a present would have meant ignoring a few key factors; namely, a couple of torn and otherwise marked pages, as well as the fact that you shouldn’t really give presents that people know you got for free at work. But, the way I see it, if it’s the perfect selection for that person, then surely it’s about that person’s enjoyment of the ear-marked, dirty, stained and generally grubby book that counts.


We Ate All The Pies is John Nicholson’s personal account of the evolution of football over the past 40 years, perfectly capturing the history and reasoning behind the English public’s fascination with the sport by looking at all aspects of the footballing culture, from food, to booze, to TV, to merchandise, and even stretching as far as issues of national identity and regional dialect. However, as much as I love this book, and tend to laugh quite loudly on the train whilst reading it I realised last week that I am actually reading my Dad’s favourite book.

For anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, who has seen the progression from Shoot magazine to football365.com, and from Sportsnight with Coleman to the cinematic trailers for Premiership clashes on Sky TV, this is the perfect book. We Ate All The Pies tells a brilliant story of the nation’s love of football from a man who has had every reason to hate the sport, being a Middlesbrough fan.

It’s disappointing that my Dad, who is also a Middlesbrough fan (I know, the coincidence is creepy), would like this book more than me, but I have enjoyed it so much that I don’t think my read on the train has been tainted too much.

For the ideal Dad Gift this Christmas, click here to buy John Nicholson’s book for £9.99. I’m going to, as that was my only free copy.


The 2010 intake of new MPs are IMMORTAL says ConHome

  • November 16, 2010 12:05
  • Katy Scholes

The Class of 2010: A biographical guide to the first-time MPs elected at the 2010 General Election provides key - and some not-so-key - information on the 232 new Members of Parliament as Conservative Home pointed out in a review of the book yesterday.

It includes pictures, biographical material vetted by each of the candidates themselves, contact information and 'ten questions'.

"it's a book which ought to be on the reference shelf on any self-respecting politico" ConHome's Jonathan Isaby said.

Buy your guide to the new intake and find out which of our new MPs is a fully trained pyrotechnician... here.


Biteback MD, Iain Dale, considers the future of the publishing industry...

  • November 15, 2010 17:01
  • Katy Scholes

In The Observer, Victoria Glendinning laments the lack of appetite among publishers for serious biography nowadays. In particular, she points out that publishers no longer pay the kind of advances on royalties that they used to. Indeed, and a good thing too. The level of advances had got ridiculous, with publishers seemingly only too willing to throw good money after bad in their desire to get one over on their competitors. In the end the house of cards had to come crashing down, and it certainly did.

Take the David Blunkett diaries, for instance. OK, not strictly biography, but the book was symptomatic of the malaise that had afflicted the industry. Bloomsbury had decided it wanted to get into the political biography market so it bid a ridiculous amount of money for a book which was never going to be a huge seller. The advance was somewhere in the region of £250,000 and that didn't include newspaper serialisation rights. Blunkett trousered close to £400,000 in all for a book which sold around 5,000 copies. Work out the finances on that for yourself.


Victoria Glendinning makes the point that for professional biographers it is difficult to eke out a living nowadays. She got an advance of £10,000 for her latest book, a biography of David Astor. In 1992 she go £50,000 for a similar book on Cyril Connolly.

In part this is also due to the amount of money being thrown at celebrity autobiographies by the big publishers. They do it because some of them can sell serious numbers. But for every celebrity autobiography which becomes a bestseller there are another dozen which flop and lose their publishers a huge amount of money - not just the advance, but the massive amount devoted to marketing.

All this means that the bigger publishers, like Macmillan, HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House and Simon & Schuster, have decided that the non-celebrity biography is one to steer clear of unless they can be more or less 100% confident that they can sell at least 10,000 copies in hardback.

But all this means that publishers like my company, Biteback, are now being offered books by authors and agents which even five years ago would have been way out of our range. But we are not changing our business approach to accommodate them. I'm simply not prepared to try to compete with big publishers on advances. Indeed, we don't pay any advances at all on the majority of books we take on. We can't and won't, because the business model for a publishing company like ours can't cope with advances beyond a few thousand pounds. And I mean a very few.

It's not that we are being mean spirited. It's just that sales levels can't justify it. We'd all love to get that elusive best seller, but in the real world we all live in we know that it's unlikely to happen. The world of bookselling is a very different beast to that which existed even eight years ago. Then, there were a multitude of bookshop chains - Waterstone's, Dillons, Ottakers, John Smith, Blackwells, W H Smith and one or to other regionals. Now there is one - Waterstone's. Even W H Smith has more or less reduced itself to the lowest common denominator.

The simple truth is that if Waterstone's won't stock a book as core stock, and put it in each of its stores, you have virtually no chance of a book selling beyond a couple of thousand copies. Of course, Amazon is crucial too, but the fact that it doesn't really have a serious online competitor gives it enormous buying power, leading to smaller publishes feeling as if they have been bulldozed.

In addition, small publishers are forced to accept deals which they know are fiercely uncompetitive. But if Waterstone's, W H Smith or Amazon demand 60% discount there's little scope for negotiation. And in the case of the first two, they often demand a "promotional" spend too just to even stock the book. For many publishers it has become the economics of the mad house.

So we are all asking ourselves, if e-Books might be the saviour of the publishing industry? In theory they could cut out the middle man (i.e. the bookshop) and be sold directly to the public. But, in theory, that is also the same for physical books, and most publishers don't do much direct bookselling. At Biteback we are about to dip our toes into the e-Book market. We've signed a deal with Amazon who appear to about to be become a monopoly supplier of e-Books. But no one really knows the price level at which to pitch e-Books. The consumer is canny enough to work out that if there aren't any print costs, the price should be lower, but some of the bigger UK publishers continue to stick their heads in the sand and try to charge the full retail price. But the economics of e-Books appear to stink. Say we charge £5 for a paperback whose bookshop price would be £10. Amazon will take 60% of the £5, leaving £2 left, of which £1 goes to the author. That doesn't leave an awful lot for the publisher, does it? If sales levels of e-Books is higher than that for physical books, then it might all work, but at the moment it is unclear if that will be the case, and how long it will take to get there.

All of this means that small to medium sized publishers are having to become far more innovative in the way they market and sell their books. This ought to be a huge opportunity for independent bookshops to step up to the breach and fill the gap vacated by the big chains who have all merged into one or gone out of business. But so far they show few signs of doing so.

All of this might sound a bit downbeat and depressing. But for me it's not a threat it's a real opportunity. We know there is a tremendous appetite for reading and good, quality literature in this country. All we have to do is figure out how best to exploit it.