Talking to the (Irish) Publisher: Ivan O’Brien

Eoin Purcell

Introduction

What it is:
An occasional series of posts where I get answers to the same four questions from different publishers*.

Why I am doing it:
Partly because there is so little web based discussion of Irish Publishing. Partly because I think people will like reading the stuff. Mostly because I will find it interesting.

And the Questions:

1) What is the biggest current threat to Irish publishing?
2) What do you believe Irish Publishing’s Unique Selling Point is?
3) Do you think that Irish publishing receives enough state funding (or too much)?
4) Do you think Digitization, e-books and all that goes with that is a threat or an opportunity?

And today’s instalment:

IVAN O’BRIEN (O’Brien Press)

The O’Brien Press was established in 1974, evolving out of a family-run printing and type house, and over the past 32 years has established a reputation for quality and excellence in publishing for adults and children.

The O’Brien Press launched its first publication in November 1974. Me Jewel and Darlin’ Dublin, written by Eamonn Mac Thomais, was brought out while the author was still in jail and was an immediate success. It has been reprinted many times, and has become a minor classic.

The answers:

1) What is the biggest current threat to Irish publishing?
Probably the insane margin crunch brought on by the combination of a range of factors: the biggest single one is probably the all-conquering march of retail price-promotions, both in-store and online.

Even when a book is a success, it’s that much harder to make any real money on it to justify the investment. You also have steady increases in the advances that are being offered to authors, largely driven by the arrival of outposts from most of the conglomerates in Dublin. The level of advance you are expected to deliver presupposes a substantial success, so the cost of failure is that much higher.

Salaries and rents are also increasing much more rapidly than book prices, which have been pretty much static for a decade now. Throw constant pressure from retailers for more discount into the mix, and there’s not much left for the publisher!

2) What do you believe Irish Publishing’s Unique Selling Point is?
We are small, nimble companies that know our market well. We come up with great ideas that are tailored for our buyers, and produce high quality products rapidly. And we really care. I’m not sure how unique that all is, of course!

3) Do you think that Irish publishing receives enough state funding (or too much)?
No, not even nearly enough. Ireland’s march to Boston and away from Berlin (led by the all-conquering competition authority) means that the cultural value of publishing is largely ignored. We are able to point to our great writers winning awards all over the place, and quietly gloss over the fact that most of these are published in Britain.

To claim that this will have no effect on the cultural integrity of the work is niaive at best. Irish state supports for publishing are well below the levels of just about anywhere else — just go to any bookfair and see the size of and investment in the Czech, Catalan, Welsh, Canadian (I could go on!) areas, and compare them with poor old Ireland. Our cultural presence at these events is minimal, which is indicative of the esteem in which publishing is held.

4) Do you think Digitization, e-books and all that goes with that is a threat or an opportunity?
Yes. It is both a threat and an opportunity.
Threat: the investment required to built a robust digital infrastructure is beyond the scope of most small companies, so we will all have to choose partners/providers to exploit the new markets. This will be expensive and will involve substantial up-front cost, with no guarantee of return and (critically) relatively little control over how things evolve. Margins will be squeezed as never before.

Opportunity: new markets and a (more or less) level playing field in delivery, if not in marketing. If we invest enough in making our books findable, searchable and pertinant, there is no reason for us not to complete with the big boys. If we are nimble enough in terms of exploiting online marketing opportunities, we can shout a lot louder than our normal voices would suggest is possible.

A very fine start I think you will agree.
Onwards,
Eoin

* I may at my random leisure and fancy choose non-publishers without apology or explanation (though they will all involve book type folk).

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