This year’s Publishing Ireland trade event was certainly our most ambitious yet with a lineup that drew speakers from government bodies to booksellers and distributors. And that was just the morning’s festivities! If this were not enough we also had the internationally-renowned Chief Executive of Faber & Faber Stephen Page, whose multi-imprinted house has radically recalibrated its business model to focus on targeted social groups, specialised limited editions and of course, the oft-quoted ‘superfan’.
The morning began with a bang with ‘funding as the central issue up for discussion. Patsy Horton, President of Publishing Ireland was joined by the heads of literature from both the Arts Council and Arts Council of Northern Ireland Sarah Bannan and Damian Smyth. The discussions, far from being adversarial were open, honest and constructive. Chief among the sentiments raised was Bannan’s reminder that funding for literature and indeed non-fiction should not be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Arts Council but should be broadened out among other possible funding bodies. It should not, she insisted be just ‘an arts thing’. Discussions then led neatly into the bookseller-publisher relationship in our mid-morning session with Easons, Dubray Books and Argosy during which the point was made that smaller, independent publishers might not have the same access to these industry partners as the larger publishers- a point that was raised by the chair of the session and Vice President of Publishing Ireland Michael O’Brien.
In delivering his keynote speech to Irish publishers large and small in the intimate surroundings of the Boys’ School venue at Smock Alley Theatre on Friday, Page reminded us that the e-book is not the behemoth digital threat that we had all feared and that the ‘vast bulk of reading is still being done in physical book form’ (Via the Irish Times)- a sentiment that he has also echoed in his interview with Stephanie Lawless in the run-up to the trade day:
‘I hear a lot of numbers bandied around that I’m not sure I believe- 30% of all books being read in e-book- that sort of thing is certainly not the case with the publishers I talk to! We’re in the mid-teens. Only genre or best-seller publishers sell a lot in e-books.’
Patsy Horton in her comments at the end of the day’s talks summed up the event by underlining the need for Irish publishers to communicate better and more often in order to maximise the impact of the industry and its voice, particularly when it came to funding opportunities and lobbying initiatives.