Friday. 18/10/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Read it and reap

Seeing as the world's biggest meeting of press and print is in full flow at the Frankfurt Book Fair (until Sunday), it’s a good time to assess the fast-changing industry. The authors, agents and publishers, and those in the ascendant audiobook game, who are attending the fair are positive but it’s the retailers who need help writing the next chapter. Enter James Daunt, the British businessman whose chain of London shops proves that pushing print is still possible – nay, profitable. Having turned around UK firm Waterstones he has set his sights on reviving the lacklustre sales at US bookseller Barnes & Noble, where he’s now CEO.

We caught up with Daunt in New York to ask him how to go about leading a turnaround. His tips? Empower booksellers, stock what people want, create a space that’s inviting to linger in, sweat about the details (the space between the shelves as well as the display itself) and ditch the dross: cheap fridge magnets and gimmickry don’t work.

But that’s just the dust-jacket version; for the unabridged interview, dive under the covers of our November issue, which just hit shelves. Bookshops, it seems, can still aspire to top the bestsellers list.

Reportage / Syria

On the frontline

The US decision to withdraw its military forces from northern Syria has further destabilised this war-torn nation. Even so, a semblance of normality can still be seen on the streets of Damascus: cafés serve sugary tea, DJs spin dance music at night and citizens of all stripes play backgammon in the Al Rawda café near Hamra Street. But, as our reporter found on a recent visit, the capital is in a grim mood as sanctions bite and uncertainty looms. One of the people he spoke to was Missak Baghbudarian, director of the National Orchestra. “Even during the days of the most intense violence, things were better than now,” he said. “Significant numbers of students and professors left the country at the beginning of the war for political motivations. Now the economy, a lack of educational opportunities and fear of military service is driving people to leave.” For the full on-the-ground report, pick up a copy of our November issue.

Security / Germany

Bark and byte

It’s not just we humans who are adapting to security concerns in the digital age: in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, police dogs are being trained to sniff out more than just drugs and traditional contraband. Five pooches have spent 20 days in a boot camp to search for data, including smartphones, USB sticks and sim card. The lesson is drawn from the recent bust of a major paedophile ring at a campsite in the town of Lügde, whereby a long-running case was finally cracked open by a data-detecting dog.

Comprising malinois and Dutch herders, the new canine team of Ali Baba, Herr Rossi, Odin, Jupp and Theo was presented by state police this week. Anyone travelling through a US airport, where dogs are often still relied upon to sniff out explosives, should beware: Fido could soon be on the scent of cybercriminals too.

Politics / Japan

Lost in translation

It’s not often that the Japanese government tries to explain the meaning of the word “sexy”. This week, facing questions from opposition lawmakers, the cabinet office said that environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi’s comment in English about wanting to tackle climate change with “sexy” policies was, ahem, hard to translate. Citing the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, the government’s statement about the phrase, which was uttered during the UN Climate Summit last month, resorted to an approximation: “attractive”. Koizumi, 38, made headlines last month as the youngest minister in Shinzo Abe’s cabinet reshuffle but the outspoken, telegenic son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi is also struggling at home to find the right words in his new role. During a grilling in parliament this week, the new recruit opted to sidestep questions and avoid controversy with a stock answer: “I will continue to fulfil my duties as a member of the Abe cabinet.”

Urbanism / Turin

Summit special

There are many conferences about making better cities – we have one coming up ourselves – but Utopian Hours has some strong points of difference. Starting in Turin today and running until Sunday, it brings together an international audience of city planners and people making changes around the world. Oh, and our editor, Andrew Tuck, will be talking about The Monocle Guide to Building Better Cities. One nice thing about the conference is that it’s compact; another is that you can attend for the price of a small donation. Across the three days, Utopian Hours will look at issues such as loneliness and smart technology but also run a city workshop for children. So why is Turin a good host? Organiser Luca Ballarini says that the city “has always been a place of beta testing with the car industry and for innovation – it’s a very powerful thing that’s in our DNA”. He also says that Turin is at a crossroads and needs to decide what it wants to be: a regional powerhouse or globally minded player. This event might supply some answers.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Norma Kamali

This New York-based fashion designer, whose career spans five decades, has always been ahead of the curve, whether reusing parachute silk, designing the sleeping-bag puffer coat that made her name, becoming obsessed with personal health or championing gender-neutral clothing. She has designed pieces for Whitney Houston, Farrah Fawcett, Bianca Jagger, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.

Monocle Films / Canada

Reading the tea leaves

Vancouver Island might not be famous for growing tea but its lush soil has proved perfect for starting an idyllic farm.

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