Publishing in Ireland – The way it is

Eoin Purcell

It’s a compliment really
That so many of the large publishers have Irish office here. Penguin run a neat little operation that has launched some great Fiction and Non-Fiction, as does Hodder. MacMillan has Gill&MacMillan an arrangement that gives Gill the best of both worlds, an independent publishing strategy with multi-national back up.

It is understandable from their perspective. Ireland is an extension of the UK book market in many ways. Hundreds of UK titles are sold here and we speak English after all.

If rumours (based on job adverts) are true then Random House is set to join their fellow giants in publishing a separate list into the Irish market.

Personally I welcome them.

Issues do arise
As you might imagine though, the presence of these companies has some negative side affects for Irish publishers. The first and most obvious is to increase the level of competition, the second advances and the third marketing prowess.

Not only do we compete with books exported from the British market which sell well here too, but we are forced to compete with their native Irish titles as well.

The size of the advances that the larger groups can pay is huge compared to most Irish publishers and so in commissioning too they have a distinct advantage. Talented authors know that they are likely to get a bigger advance and access to larger sales and marketing teams than if they stay with an independent house.

Personally what I find the most impressive is the ability of these large groups to pull off marketing and trade promotion coups. If you had witnessed the huge displays for this book in Dublin in the last few weeks you would be impressed too (to boot it has sold about 9,000 copies in 3 weeks according to Bookscan which is very impressive in this market).

It is a symptom of the problem that the book in question was the sixth book by an author who was nurtured by an Irish publisher before being poached by Penguin. When all is said and done though I am sure the increased sales of the first four books with no marketing spend is something of a consolation.

How do we cope
All this has the effect of pushing local companies into a tight spot. Without the resources of the larger companies we are forced to rely on clever commissioning, smarter marketing and on building market share in areas where these larger companies do not publish.

Of course in the long term that is not a winning strategy. In the long term we need to be competitive with the larger players. It requires us to adapt to their presence and to challenge them with innovative books and products. It requires us to find and publish new and distinctive talent that sells in Ireland and beyond the borders of our island. There are great examples out there to copy, we just need to look.

Most of all it challenges us to be better everyday, to be more creative in our thinking, more effective in our execution and to every day push the boat out. I’m not there yet but at least I know where I am going and I think I know how to get there.

Come along for the ride?
Eoin

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4 comments

  1. Hi Eoin, as a small press publisher who faces many of the same challenges as you here in Australia, I disagree with your point that ‘in the long term that is not a winning strategy’. I think that indies exist to fill niches, commission in very clever ways, and create creative marketing campaigns… it is the very differences between indies and the large market players that are their strengths, not their weaknesses.

    But it’s reassuring to know that small press publishers face the same problems the world over!

    L.

  2. Hey L,

    I hear what you are saying and I think it’s totally valid. I also agree with you to point despite what I said.

    When I say it is not a winning strategy I mean that while you will score points, make sales and do pretty well. You will never compete with the larger publishers.

    Independents need to be able to break through in the same genres and markets that the larger conglomerates control. It is there that they make their profits, there that they dominate newspaper and other reviews, there that they make a connection with the mass market.

    The strategy of building on the edges of the market is an excellent mid-term strategy. It will even deliver profits. What I mean is that to really connect with the market and to become more than an appendage to the bigger publishers, you need to successfully break into their markets.

    Eoin

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