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.
There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
US author & satirist (1842 – 1914)
This may just be the coolest thing I have come across today!
I love the draft premise for the text and enjoy that he references one of my favourite writers, Gabriel Zaid who wrote one of my favourite books So Many Books, which was published by one of my favourite publishers Sort of Books in pitching for your support. Genius!
Hold on a second though
Although this is a great story and one worth watching and following (speaking of which, CNet covers it well, here) the whole project raises a few big questions:
1) What does this mean for Writers?
2) What does this mean for Readers?
3) What does this mean for Publisher?
4) What does this mean for Booksellers?
If this proves anything it is that the publishing world has shifted. You can and will have the opportunity to connect with readers directly. it is a chance you MUST seize. You need to be taking specific actions to make sure that in a year, or two or three you too can connect like Robin has. In short you need to become strategic. ARE YOU READY FOR PRIMETIME?
Boy are you in for some fun! Writers and publishers are waking up to the fact that you have not one, but two valuable assets in your hands. The first is the one we have always seen and that is money. The second is attention and Robin has show yet another way in which capturing that can lead to money. You have a lot of power in this system, but as everyone knows, WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY. You may well be determining the future of our literary culture when you give something your attention. Remember that!
What more can be said? Read my post from earlier this week and answer me this, with that much energy and verve, HOW COME ROBIN SLOAN IS NOT ALREADY UNDER CONTRACT?
Nothing in this is comforting for booksellers, except one thing, passion (and books, but that’s two things). People are passionate about books, they love them, reader or writers. They make videos about them and they convert people to them. If you could harness Robin Sloan and his ilk, bring their passion for the books you sell into your store somehow, you could provide a much more community-like atmosphere, perhaps even become the hub for book related discussion and debate, sell coffee, services and books, just as many independents and chains do now, and with passion win over customers, readers writers and publishers. I HAVE NO ADVICE OF A SOLID NATURE. I wish I did.
One final thought
Thinking this through, it is also a reversion to an older method of publishing one based on pre-subscribed patrons to finance a work. This model has merit in this age of confusion and broken systems! Good luck to Robin!
UPDATE: Writing4all.ie have now updated their terms and conditions and I believe that the terms i referenced in this post have been erased. I am happy to say that they have been much more specific in their language. The ownership clause now reads:
You own your User Content, not us. User Content is defined as text, pictures, video, sound and other files legally posted by you on the Site. You grant the Company and its affiliates a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free right to display your User Content (in whole or in part) on the Site or on site affiliates that bear the Writing4all name – Facebook, Twitter. You also grant each user of the Site the right to access, display, view, store and reproduce such your User Content for personal use. You represent and warrant to the Company that you have the right to grant the licenses stated above.
This is a huge improvement! Eoin
On the face of it, Writing4all.ie seems a nice idea, a place for Irish writers to share, collaborate and build community:
Welcome Guest! You’re viewing these pages as a guest. To be able to add or comment on works please join or login. Writing4all.ie is an online writing community and resource centre for Irish writers. Share your creative writing with others and get instant feedback and constructive criticism.
Our writing resources give you all the latest news on writing courses, writing groups, book launches and workshops in your area. Read the latest news in our blog or discuss books and the world of literature in our lively forums.
Free memberships are available to all and we welcome poetry, fiction, non-fiction and drama. Members can enter our regular poetry, fiction and non-fiction competitions and contests.
Sounds very nice and indeed, if that was it I would be fine with it. But it’s not it. When you read through the site terms and conditions you find this gem (emphasis mine):
You own your User Content, not us. You grant the Company and its affiliates a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and publicly display your User Content (in whole or in part) and/or to incorporate such your User Content in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed.
What this means is that if you upload writing to the site, Original Writing, the owner of Writing4all.ie and a self-publisher company I have discussed here before, can publish that work without any need to pay you a royalty or even consulting you as far as I can tell. Those are some pretty extravagant permissions!
Most other sites will specify these permissions for the extra content you provide but not the creative writing you upload. The basic problem is that the terms makes no allowances for separating the content that you create on the site and the creative work you upload TO the site. If they made this differentiation clearer and excluded the creative content from the terms above I believe the terms would be much fairer. If you doubt that, read the definition of user content:
You are solely responsible for any activity and content (including, without limitation, data, text, information, screen names, graphics, photos, profiles, audio and video clips, and links to third-party content) that is posted under your screen names (collectively, “User Content”).
It is possible of course that this isn’t intentional and that the terms are simply sloppily drafted but there is much to be wary of here. At the very least the terms as set out need revision and extra definition, not a situation you should allow your content to get trapped in. Eoin