I was on Nadine O’Regan’s The Kiosk show last Saturday discussing the impact of the economic crisis on the Arts. Critic and journalist Sara Keating was in studio with me and Angela Dorgan of First Music Contact (they of Hard Working Class Heroes) was on the line (the snow caused some travel trouble) and we had a lively discussion about whether or not the Arts had felt the positive impact of the Celtic Tiger or whether artists had largely been left behind.
On balance I was with Sara in much of what she said about the growth of Arts administration versus the funding for artists themselves and I think that comes through in my little rant about focusing funds on bursaries and direct funding to artists as the develop their skills.
However, I think myself and Angela were on the same page over the reality that most artists, writers, musicians, actors or playwrights make very little money, in good times or bad so the recession will hardly impact them. It’s one of the reasons why a reduction in the artists exemption doesn’t bother me too much.
the tabletop role-playing gaming industry started out by trying to model the methods of traditional publishing, found out the hard way that that really didn’t work for them (in the long run, it’s not working for big publishers either, but they’re BIG, so they didn’t notice as soon), and had to find new solutions. They were the first to adopt electronic publishing, shame-free POD printing, electronic-only publishing, podcasting-modules, mixed media releases, and every other experimental method anyone could think of, good or bad. That’s fine: they’re small, and experimenting is something small groups of people can DO that big groups can’t.
You’d imagine that being an Irish chart, the figures on the Irish Consumer Market would reflect that and we would see a lot of Irish companies dominating the market. It’s not a bad concept, I can see why it appeals, it is however, somewhat unfortunately for Irish publishers, just plain wrong.
For instance of the top ten titles in 2008 only two of them are listed as published in Ireland and they are published by Transworld Ireland and Penguin Ireland which, although they employ Irish staff and publishes Irish writers, is owned by International behemoths, Random House and Pearson. The image below shows this.
Inclusive or Exclusive
That pattern is repeated numerous times through the top 1000. 668 of the top 1000 markets are listed as published in the UK. That’s not the half of it either because a full 92 of the top 1000 are published by what might be called Irish Imprints of international publishers.
Don’t get me wrong here, these companies all employ impressive publishers, editors, publicists and sales reps and work with great Irish authors. But one should always call a spade a spade. Ignoring the different set up does no-one any good. They have distinct advantages even if those are only perceptional or brand preference issues.
I also need to be carful there because that figure includes Gill & Macmillan (G&M). I’ve been told before that including G&M in the International Imprints bracket is unfair (On the basis that Macmillan only own a share in the region of 50% of the company) so to give a full picture with G&M the figure is 92, without G&M it is 60 (which goes to show how strong a force they are in the Irish Market). I’ll leave the choice to you how you like to count them, but for me, I think it fairer to consider them part of the International Imprint group if only because they operate under a similar if not exactly the same structure.
In any case a full country-by-country breakdown looks like this.
State – Books Published in that state
Unknown – 2
Australia – 5
United State of America – 7
United Kingdom – 668
Ireland (Including International Imprints + G&M) 318
Ireland (Excluding International Imprints + G&M) 226
Ireland (Including G&M but not International Imprints) 258
So, at best, Irish published books account for just a shade under 32% of the ICM Top 1000 in Ireland. When you exclude International Imprint & G&M that brings the figure to 22.6% even if you include G&M and leave out the International Imprints it still only gets you a shade under 26%.
I think that is something of a worry. Native publishers (at the broadest definition) only just breaking towards 1/3 of the market. Sure we have a huge market right next door with large publishers and effective media saturation through UK Press, TV & Radio but you would imagine that Irish Publishers could appeal more effectively to Irish readers.
In another sense, it is hardly that surprising. All areas of our culture, from video games, movies and opera to sculpture, painting and high fashion are dominated by outside forces, why should reading, books and publishing be any different.
Units & Value
We’ve not yet looked at the figures for sales or units! So let’s do that now.
State – Units – Value – % of Whole Top 1000
Ireland (Most inclusive) – 1,252,405 – €14,781,707.41 – 27.7%
UK – 3,400,705 – €38,048,969.06 – 71.3%
USA – 19,984 – €254,414.93 – .48%
Australia – 13,044 – €181,931.94 – .34%
Unknown – 5,043 – €84,514.57 – .15%
(Note: the rounding is a little off here)
The most inclusive figure then, under-performs on a value basis, even its paltry 32% of titles figure. When you consider things from this perspective, the notion that publishing success then requires an author to move abroad to an international publisher, is not then without some foundation. As a strong proponent of Irish publishing, as a fan of many of the books published by my peers in all of the various types of publishers bring books to the market here (be they International Imprints or native Irish), that is a little hard to accept. But accept it I must.
Of course one needs to be cautious. These represent raw figures for titles, units and revenue, and only for the Top 1000 at that. Some sales will have been missed simply by happening in non-traditional outlets or independents not tied to the Nielsen system. In any case, on this basis I think we have more than enough data to write a solid wrap up in the fifth and last part of this series.
It gets you thinking, the data gets you thinking, Eoin
I’ve written about Hol Art Booksonce or twice before but I neglected to mention them when they issued their first books and I wanted to address that. Hol Art is based on a remarkably simple to outline and yet difficult to get right system called team publishing. They have a nice guide to how it operates on their website:
In a departure from traditional publishing, we bring authors and publishing professionals together online to collaboratively identify, evaluate, and develop our titles. The processs is open to everyone.
• You and your team select, edit, design, and promote the book.
• We print, distribute, and market it in our seasonal list of titles.
• And everyone–the author, the team, and Hol–gets paid a percentage of the book’s sales, for as long as it sells.
Hol Art lets you start a project, join a project and general become the life blood of a venture. It is actually fairly genius.
Why this is smart
I’ve discussed before why self-publishing is attractive for both authors at the top of the publishing ladder and at the bottom too. That is because as the costs of the actual physical publishing process (editing, design, printing a book) drop relative to the less tangible (to the author) costs (distribution, marketing, acquiring attention and successfully promoting and selling a book) the role that publisher play that is of use to the author SEEMS to become less valuable. I stress seems because publishers who are wise will look at what they do well and concentrate their resources on doing that.
Many houses now have few if any in house editors and work almost completely with freelancers. This tends to work for both parties, reducing payroll costs for publishers and enabling better balance for those freelancers. Quite a few houses have outsourced design in the same way and few small or medium publisher have ever handled distribution themselves anyway.
What I like about Hol Art Books is that they have taken that kind of thinking and applied it sensibly to their own chosen niche. Art books tend to be more expensive to print so they pay that cost, marketing tends to be more niche focused so recruiting a publicist to each team is very sensible. And, to top it all off, they are totally and scarily open and honest, just read this piece about the money side of affairs if you doubt me!
Hol Art have a nice, new and (I think) viable model. It will be interesting to see if this can be adapted for other niches. I suspect there is room for it. The type of model might sit very well with the discussion from Publishing Perspective last week (MJ Rose & Robert Miller).
Going with the flow
Interestingly too, it goes towards the ideas about how the work force will be reshaped in the coming decades. Ideas I first encountered in Nine Shift but remarkably read today again on the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog.
I still think there are things that Hol Art could add to the model, and maybe they might work better as part of a larger entity (even a museum or university) rather than a solo enterprise, but you have to admire what the founder Greg Albers has created.