Irish Publishing: Dead or Alive?

Eoin Purcell

In case you thought Irish publishers were not at the races with the future
You should have gone along to the debate on that very topic at the Dublin Book Festival on Friday. Seán Ó Cearnaigh chaired the panel with: Michael Gill (Gill & Macmillan) and Michael O’Brien (The O’Brien Press), Conor Kostick (Author and Chair of the Irish Writers’ Union).

Although the format was a little staid (Seán Ó Cearnaigh posed questions directly to the panel) and a little ruined for me by the fact that the question I asked was stupidly phrased and didn’t get across the point I wanted, it was still a fascinating experience. Given that the Festival is in its first year, I can see this getting better and better. There is real value in panel discussions like this one.

Unlikely Revolutionary
Michael Gill especially came across well and was a revelation to me. I’ve seen Michael O’Brien in action before. It would be a rare person who would deny that he is a forceful proponent of whatever position he is supporting and his record as a publisher speaks for itself. But it was Michael Gill who seemed the revolutionary to me, pushing Irish publishers to explore the digital opportunities and to overcome the barriers and challenges.

Both he and Michael O’Brien seemed certain of the dangers Microsoft’s and Google’s scanning and digitisation of books pose to publishers. I think their views are beginning to win me over (this is helping too).

No more Net Book, EVER
The only real area of conflict arose from the suggestion that perhaps selling price contracts might make a return, this from Connor Kostick, the only author on the panel. Michael Gill gave an emphatic smack down to this and left little doubt about his position on the matter. He also seemed reluctant to countenance a return to any kind of Price Maintenance, something both Connor Kostick and Michael O’Brien seemed keen on.

I have to say, I dislike price maintenance instinctively, it just doesn’t feel right and the happy capitalist in me resents any pricing tools.

I’ve some more notes on the discussion but I need to think them over a little more before I write them up!

Enjoyed the day at the Festival,

2 thoughts on “Irish Publishing: Dead or Alive?

  1. Hi, Eoin,
    Chanced across your piece on the debate by way of a quick search of “Dublin Book Festival”. This time last year such a search would have yielded no results; today there are many thousands. Thanks for the interest and for your contribution to the discussion on the day. In a sense this first Dublin Book Festival itself answered the “Dead or Alive” question in that it showed how the creativity and resourcefulness in the individual publishing companies are being harnessed to the greater good of the industry as a whole – this type of co-operation and strategic thinking is vital if we are to identify and address the challenges facing us. All sorts of issues were highlighted by the Festival, not least of them being the importance of an indigenous publishing industry as (at the very least) a nurturer of emerging writing talent. However, many other more prosaic – but equally important – issues emerged. For example, the Festival bookshop ensured that all the ‘impulse purchases’ were purchases of Irish-published books and so many of the books that were sold were ones which the public told us they had never seen anywhere before. There are lessons to be learned all around – not just by CLÉ…
    If anyone within the industry missed out on the Festival, but is interested in CLE’s current approach, there’s a chance to influence the direction in which we’re moving, by sending us feedback on the Draft Corporate Plan for the period up to 2010. We’ve kept it very brief and have written in fairly broad strokes (these kinds of documents can date very quickly as circumstances change). The document can be found here: and if you feel there’s an area of activity we’ve ignored or that we’re over-emphasizing others, your comments are welcome to ensure that we represent you in every sense of the word. The document is extremely short and we’d ask you to comment as soon as possible please – even short first impressions can be valuable feedback sometimes.
    Seán Ó Cearnaigh, President, CLÉ
    Alan Hayes, Vice President, CLÉ

  2. Good to see another Book Fair on the scene. I plan to attend the Toronto Authors Festival next week and note another strong Irish component. Your people are doing a good job of promoting talent abroad.

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