Briefing document from the Irish Book Industry Forum



Jobs and Cultural Independence Threatened by new Library Policy

1. Introduction

The recently-published ‘Opportunities for All’ library strategy document highlights shared procurement as one of the key recommendations, stating:

     A policy for shared acquisitions for libraries will be developed, including a national acquisitions consortium for public library print and electronic resources          that maximises the cost-effectiveness of resources expenditure, increases purchasing power and gets the best choice of material to the user in line with        government policy.

No further detail on this recommendation appears in the document, which raises some very serious concerns that the implications of such a radical change in policy have not been fully considered. The language strongly suggests that price is the over-riding concern: we strongly believe that this is a short-sighted and dangerous policy.

The recent precedent of the recently-completed tendering process for supply of books to a group of Irish libraries by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, Fingal County Council and South Dublin County Council is instructive: the two main contracts will be awarded to a UK wholesaler, Bertrams, who are part of Smiths News PLC and one of two massive suppliers that dominate the UK market.


2. Price before service

  • Previous Irish local authority tender competitions have awarded 65% to service: this tender awarded a guaranteed 65% to the lowest price. Value is much more important than price, particularly in the medium- to long-term.
  • Service in library supply is complex, comprising many elements:
    • Selection: as an Independent country with a proud cultural heritage, Ireland and its libraries have a unique and important role in maintaining cultural independence. The in-depth book knowledge of the library supply sector is not available out of the state: UK wholesalers do not have people on the ground, or with knowledge of our market.
    • Supply: UK-based wholesalers simply do not have available a large proportion of the books that Irish libraries need. This is true both of Irish-published and foreign-published Irish-interest books.
    • Servicing: Irish libraries expect and have enjoyed a high-level of book servicing (preparation of books for us in libraries through robust covers, embedded identification chips etc). This cannot be guaranteed from UK suppliers
    • Speed and flexibility: as the main customers of the Irish library supply sector, Irish libraries are always given the best treatment by these suppliers. As a tiny proportion of the trade of enormous businesses, this would be lost.


3. Decimation of the Irish book industry’s ecosystem


  • Without access to their key customers, Bookseller library suppliers will close, costing large numbers of jobs. Knowledge that took many years to build will be discarded overnight, and will be impossible to replace.
  • The inevitable loss of sales of Irish books will seriously damage Irish publishers, and have a huge negative impact on the earnings and audience of Irish writers, illustrators, editors and their communities.
  • Irish publishers will be put at a disadvantage by the very fact that the library suppliers will be UK-based. In particular, UK publishers can make their representations direct to Bertrams in Norwich while the Irish reps cannot get there, at least not without significant expense.
    • Books published in Ireland will have to be transported to the UK for library binding etc in order to be sent back to Ireland again. This will incur additional sales costs to Irish publishers, is environmentally wasteful and expensive. This policy is in direct violation of the Irish Government and EU policy on “Green Public Procurement”.

4. Abuse of monopoly position/predatory pricing:

  • The Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland in their submission to the UK government review, The Modernisation Review of Public Libraries 2010 (UK), pointed out that ‘In order to bring about the best possible service from library suppliers to local authorities, there needs to be genuine competitive tendering and the avoidance of monopolies. We therefore do not support single central buying authority acting on behalf of all libraries. A range of options and alternative sources of supply should be available to local authorities in order to create healthy competition for the contracts to supply. ‘
  • Irish library suppliers are not afraid of healthy competition, and have openly competed for library tenders for many years now.
  • Centralised buying and price-dominated criteria for supply of library books favours the two large UK wholesalers and discriminates against all other suppliers by facilitating the elimination of real competition through short-term predatory pricing.


5. Social & cultural significance:

  • Irish library suppliers will not be able to compete purely on price with the large UK wholesalers, who at the same time will not know or care to learn the intricacies of the Irish market. This will lead to a lack of exposure for Irish authors and writing which could have a hugely negative impact on the future of Irish literature.
  • This policy ‘dumbs down’ the selection of books that will be available to Irish readers.
  • Dublin is one of only five cities in the world to receive the honour of UNESCO City of Literature.  The library service in Dublin achieved this honour for the city. One of the criteria for the UNESCO award is: “Existence of libraries, bookstores and public or private cultural centres which preserve, promote and disseminate domestic and foreign literature.”
  • Irish communities who depend on their local libraries will lose out if this policy goes ahead.


6. What’s the picture in other countries?

  • Germany and France and many European countries take a very strong view in relation to preserving their indigenous book industry as an important part of their culture, with laws to prevent out-of-state purchasing, as cultural exceptions to competition law.*
  • They set a high value on their cultural and intellectual activity and recognise that books are different. Why can’t we?
  • Out-of-state tendering: “In countries such as Malta, Luxembourg or Ireland, the proportion of contracts awarded to foreign based companies reaches 14% to 18%, while in large countries, France, Spain or Poland for example, this proportion is less than 1%.” (2010)** In 2013, 28 per cent of public tenders went to companies outside Ireland, according to TenderScout.


7. Other SMEs will feel the effects

  • The tender policy is a direct violation of the Government’s own guidelines for facilitating participation by SMEs other businesses in the National Public Procurement Policy Framework. It will also further disadvantage the Irish business sector, which is among the most disadvantaged SME sectors in Europe in relation to procurement because of the practices outlined.
  • This tender is in direct violation of the European Code of Best Practices Facilitating Access by SMEs to Public Procurement Contracts.
  • This policy will put many Irish businesses, including the publishing industry, under increased pressure and will lead to business closures and job losses.

8. Summary

This proposed form of tendering and procurement for supply of books to Irish libraries will result in the loss of any meaningful market; it is anti-competitive and discriminatory and will result in the creation of monopolies. It will lead to job losses. It will lead to an ultimate increase in Government social welfare spending.

This is not about protectionism. This is not about subsidising unsustainable jobs and businesses. It is about making changes to the library system

It’s quite the opposite: it’s about saving sustainable Irish jobs in a difficult economy, reinvigorating SMEs, creating more jobs for the future – and invigorating our unique culture and keeping alive our vibrant heritage for the next generation.

There is a clear opportunity here, with some clearer thinking, for the Government to save the situation. We should grasp it before it’s too late.



*Quotes and backup documentation available

** Source: SMEs’ access to public procurement markets in the EU, Final Report 2010

Documents quoted:

  1. Opportunities for All: A Strategy for Public Libraries 2013-2017, Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, 2013, ISBN 978-0-9927947-0-5
  2. The Tenderscout Annual Report for 2013: An Analysis of the Public Sector Procurement Market in 2013, February 2014


For further information please contact

Irish Book Industry Forum

c/o Gráinne Killeen

T: 087 9191557  E: