A quick debate about ‘Irish’ publishing

Eoin Purcell

Comments get attention here you know
You might have spotted the comment on my About Eoin page (of course you might not have too so here it is). It really got me thinking and I wanted to respond to some of the queries raised as they were both intelligent and interesting.

Three points were raised so I’ll deal with them in order:

1.The Irish language section in all major bookstores is in retreat and in some cases has disappeared entirely.

Such is the fate of all niches unless (like say cookery) they have big budget TV shows and stars behind them. in some sense Irish ought to have that appeal factor. Lots of money is spent on TV shows after all. Perhaps it is only a matter of time!

2.Despite an upsurge in the interest in Irish at some level (though this is an area where I have grave reservations about how real or ‘deep’ this phenomenon is) [With you on the depth] and a significant increase in Irish language media (TG4, Beo.ie, Radio na Life etc), there remains a tiny number of books published in Irish. I mean < 200 per annum as far as I can see. There are a number of state agencies involved in promoting Irish language books/publishing (Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge, Foras na Gaeilge/Áis, etc). Why is there no acknowledgement of a general failure to make progress for readers? Why is there no push to address the challenges faced by this particular niche market in the newly fragmented, more diverse and celeb-driven market place?

Pushed by who? Recently Mercier published a dual language book called Bibeanna which had great support from Bord na Leabhar Gaeigle and was the offshoot of a brilliant TV documentary series. We sold through a full 2000 copies in the first month and went on to a second print run which I believe we will sell through by early next year. We will probably reprint and keep selling a few hundred copies every year for a decade or so (if we are lucky).

Without Bord na Leabhar I doubt the investment could have been made. So from that perspective their is a critical push from the publishers perspective. How can you push the book into the public consciousness? Well that is the million dollar question and the one that we find so bloody hard to answer for books in English too!

Irish gets funding from a variety of sources and that is as much as any niche can hope. I think the key to success is to make the content great, publish to the highest standard (Bibeanna was a very high quality production) and make sure that you adhere to the same time lines and deadlines that mass market publishers do. Then you will see results, hopefully.

3.Finally, given the utter narrowness of Irish publishing (and where at least 50% of the tiny number published is childrens books (38%) or self-referential, teaching, or language status) how can we square this with the claim that the Irish language is central to our culture (not saying this is agreed – I don’t but it’s the first line of defence in any argument by the pro-Gaeilge lobby)? The range of debate in Irish in written published form – whether literary or factual – is so thin that it cannot constitute anything close to what might be called a ‘national discourse’ or separate ‘world view’. This in my view undermines the credibility of the entire language project. Why are organisations who are serious about the latter not crying out for a root and branch review of reform of Irish language publishing?

As to this I can only suggest that the reason is that Irish is not central to out culture in the way that we say it is. In fact it has not been central to our culture since the early 20th century. Maybe it is time we accept that and move on. With the lies and hidden agendas out of the way we would probably be able to fund the industry properly, demand better accountability and see more promising results from our funding too!

In favour of quality published book in Irish, English or any -ish for that matter,

On caution

Eoin Purcell

I mentioned caution yesterday
And today I read an article that brought the point home:

Dotcom giant eBay has admitted it paid far too much when it bought internet telephony company Skype for $2.6bn (£1.28bn) in 2005.

The web auction company said it was writing down the value of Skype, which allows users to make telephone calls from their computer, by $900m. It is also paying $530m to several former Skype shareholders including founder Niklas Zennstrom, who is stepping down as chief executive.

This payout is significantly less than the $1.7bn that eBay could have handed over to former shareholders if Skype had hit various targets for revenue, profits and user numbers.

There is more on the actual story here too.

Sure you can say this is absolutely irrelevant to publishing. And mostly you would be correct. But as an industry we are moving (albeit slowly for Trade Publishing) towards a digital future and along the way mistakes are going to be made. Too much will be paid for brands and companies that seem to offer great potential (like Skype did) but ultimately fail (as Ebay found) to deliver the anticipated synergies or revenues.

And so we should be cautious in seeing any deal as the one that will win out and actually deliver results, cautious too of the hype that surrounds the expensive digital efforts of large publishers (and I think I am as much to blame as others) and perhaps pay more attention to the change itself and to the successful, low key efforts that deliver increased sales and better profits rather than just noise!

Becoming more cautious

PS In regard to big deals being made of big companies efforts see Em on Snowblog