Reasons to be cheerful: Leaders in the business of books reveal what they are optimistic about

Publishers, I was told by an august member of that tribe soon after I first wrote about them, are exactly like farmers. Whatever the weather, whatever the harvest, they just love to moan. Much in the world of books has changed since that moment, but not the propensity to grumble. During 2010, the "we're all doomed" tendency fed us on a bumper crop of of gloomy prognostications. Will almost-free digital distribution drain cash and credit out of the entire book-supply system? Do electronic books as a whole threaten to bankrupt publishers and pauperise authors? Has the spread of new media destroyed an appetite for reading any text tougher than a tweet among the born-digital generation?

Can anybody stop Google (with Amazon and Apple not far behind) seizing control of humanity's written heritage and using it to promote their partisan corporate agendas? Will independent high-street booksellers, well-stocked local libraries and reasonable advances for authors who don't appear on TV fade into the mists of bookish history, along with quill pens and lazy lunches? And can we ever hope to resist the takeover of publishing by celebrity clout when our Christmas chart-topper – Jamie Oliver's Jamie's 30-Minute Meals - comes from an author who cheerily admits that "I've never read a book in my life, ever, apart from my own". Respect to the recipes, though.

So book lovers need to embark on a chapter of hope. Every new year, John Brockman of the online intellectual powerhouse Edge (www.edge.org) asks its virtual community of scientists and social thinkers one question. In 2007, it was this: "What are you optimistic about?" To strike a less than despondent chord this January, I put the same question to a few people in the British book world who are best placed to know. Read their answers on these pages.

My own reasons to be cheerful overlap with the responses. But it could be that subjective factors may favour the survival of a culture of the written word, whatever happens on the ever-stormy seas of technological innovation and consumer economics. So far as we can see, e-books will mean smaller rewards for many authors. The "winner takes all" and "long tail" forces of the hi-tech cultural industries generally mean feast for the few, and famine for the many – but also new markets, and new audiences, for "niche" literature old and new.

Yet writing, and reading, have in this literary climate strong social foundations that it will take more than the odd upheaval in gadgetry and finance to shake. Even in an era of austerity – especially in such an era – authorship implies authority, and authenticity. Leathery rock idol, tanned former PM, fresh-faced family-friendly comic: the famous of all species must cement every new step in their career in place with a book, ghosted or otherwise. Whatever you think of the standard of these tomes, they all pay homage to the magic of print.

Readers flock to literary festivals in numbers that no one could have predicted even a decade ago. They seek not to ogle some celeb (well, not chiefly) but to join the republic of letters: a live space, and a free space, far from the media norm of spin, flannel and hype. A pundit in one paper fumed last week that the "chattering classes" – ie Philip Pullman, Carol Ann Duffy and the like - had forced the Coalition to back down over funds for children's book-gifting schemes. Praise be. Much-loved authors command a level of trust and respect among huge constituencies that the average banker or politician (let alone journalist...) would die, or kill, for.

As long as taste-makers in education, the press, broadcasting and other public institutions keep their faith in new books and their begetters, those precious assets of voice and visibility will not be squandered. Whether the sums will add up for much professional literature remains another matter. The age of multi-platform publishing promises no easy fix for the plight WB Yeats called "that old perplexity, an empty purse" - nor to its corollary for authors with silver tongues and shallow pockets: "the day's vanity, the night's remorse". Still, for as long as a highly cerebral memoir by a foreign politician can grow into a barnstorming bestseller for an indie publisher, the book world should be allowed the audacity of hope.

Stephen Page

Chief Executive, Faber & Faber

The second decade of the century is already likely to be characterised by an explosion in ways you can read, and therefore perhaps in approaches to writing. It will also see new dynamics in how readers find what they want to read and how writers engage with their readership. The real story is that writing and reading are rich parts of our culture getting richer, and that is genuinely exciting. One aspect of this may be the light that we can shine on niche interests and tastes as e-books and the conversation online cut the costs of distributing through the mass market and allows a wider range of writing to find readers. This could benefit areas, among others, such as literary fiction, poetry and translated work.

I'm also highly optimistic about the role smaller, independent publishers can play in finding readers for writers, and for creating value in their work. The real value publishers offer is in a specialised ability to help authors to create the best work they can, to know and discover audiences for that work – and that no longer only means placing it front of store in a bookshop. And they know how to create fair value for the work in many different ways – including physical and digital books, but also all manner of other formats and channels. Small companies and imprints can do this with great focus. All this began in earnest in 2010, and will accelerate in 2011 and beyond.

Jamie Byng

Managing Director, Canongate Books

"Basically I am an optimist because the great myth of the person who tells another person a story won't disappear that quickly. There will always be someone who feels the need to tell a friend one of his ideas or one of her dreams." I heard these inspiring words of Federico Fellini's some years back, and have always found them to be a consoling reminder of the importance of stories, of sharing them and spreading them. And what the UK book industry is doing by giving away 1,000,000 great books to 1,000,000 people on 5 March, World Book Night, is an inspiring initiative that gives me hope for the coming year. Anyone can become to be a giver, so why not apply? (www.worldbooknight.org/)

Lennie Goodings

Publisher, Virago Press

Every publisher is a gambler and an eternal optimist. We always believe there is something wonderful coming around the corner. And though things are undoubtedly tough, I still take great pleasure and interest in that hope. I believe in the sheer inventiveness of our industry - I think that World Book Night on

5 March is going to be an extraordinary, imaginative extravaganza - and in the endless genius and imagination of writers. I have faith in authors and I have faith in readers. I have seen too much evidence that shows us that books continue to matter, that good writing will move and nourish us. That essential fact is not going to change.

Jonny Geller

Managing Director, books, Curtis Brown agency

E-day arrived on Christmas Day 2010, with Random House US reporting a 300 per cent increase in e-book sales. The explosion of this new format will revitalise backlists of authors and should allow experimentation among book buyers. Unlike the music industry, we have a new market, albeit of decreased value, and that should be celebrated. 2011 will be year the publishing world will have to think on its feet, and that should be exciting.

Antonia Byatt

Director of Literature Strategy, Arts Council England

We know from our Taking Part Survey that more people read than take part in any other arts activity. Over 60 per cent of the British population reads for pleasure and more people are going to book events and festivals. Prizes like the Forward Prize, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Orange Prize for first novels highlight the real diversity of what is available. Writers are going to continue to bring real pleasure to so many people next year, which will be increasingly important if other parts of life are harder.

Richard Charkin

Executive Director, Bloomsbury Publishing

I'm optimistic about quality publishing. Certainly, the market for trivialisation has not abated, and there are many tricky issues being confronted by high-quality literary publishers - but good books not only sell but continue to be read many years after first publication. These books will most readily adapt to new means of digital distribution and readers will still wish to keep them in hardback and paperback - notwithstanding the copy they consult on their e-readers. And it is these authors who will find more frequent ways of communicating with their readers through festivals, blogs, tweets, social networks. Who wants to discuss books with a ghost writer or a B-list celebrity? Finally, my tip for quality novel of 2011 is Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English.

Gail Rebuck

Chief Executive, Random House UK

Storytelling remains core to what we do as publishers and storytelling, delivered in any form, helps us define our emotional lives and enrich our culture. Sales of digital books have reached a tipping point, and I am encouraged by the creative opportunities digital devices allow us to enhance the reading experience and increase our reach.

But the physical book remains central to our activities and I rejoice that the public discovered unexpected gems last year such as Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes. Jo Nesbo's riveting The Snowman and The Leopard became the bestsellers they have always deserved to be, and in 2011 I hope Nordic crime lovers will discover the very different wonders of Arnaldur Indridason. New voices always excite – I love Anthony Quinn's Half the Human Race, a novel based on the Suffragette movement, and Rachel Simon's exquisitely moving The Story of a Beautiful Girl, about the experience of disability. Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen is a true story of three generations of Tibetan women giving us an insight into Tibet's mysterious and violent history. We also have new books to look forward to from Haruki Murakami, Michael Ondaatje and Julian Barnes, and new thrillers from Robert Harris and Lee Child. Books can give guidance, too, and Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life could well transform a nation's behaviour, if read by all.

Dominic Myers

Managing Director, Waterstone's

The trade may be going through some tough times, but that doesn't affect creativity - the book world's greatest weapon. Great debut novels abound, as we will unveil on 20 January with the first Waterstone's 11; and brilliant, visionary, inspired ideas like World Book Night (on 5 March) will keep people talking about, as well as reading, books throughout the year and beyond.

Simon Prosser

Publisher, Hamish Hamilton

Hamish Hamilton's founder, Jamie Hamilton, famously said "I am a publisher, a hybrid creature: one part stargazer, one part gambler, one part businessman, one part midwife and three parts optimist". My optimistic three parts are particularly excited by the success of new independent booksellers like Lutyens & Rubinstein; the resurgence of literary magazine publishing (of which our own Five Dials is a part); the flourishing of that especially British phenomenon, The Festival (despite our weather) - and, most of all, by the numbers of people I see on the Tube with their noses still stuck in books.

Andrew Franklin

Managing Director, Profile Books

For many publishers (including Profile) 2010 was better than 2009, with book sales up in the UK and internationally. Sure, there are grave difficulties in bookselling and not every business is going to survive. And only a fool would deny that the digital world creates new challenges. But we are reaching more readers than ever before, and with hardbacks, paperbacks, audio and now e-books we have even more opportunity to get people reading. For the short term, the future for books, writers and reading is encouraging. No one can predict the medium term and, as Keynes so helpfully reminded us, in the long term we are all dead anyway.

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin