Future perfect in Ireland?
20.03.08 | E PURCELL
The inaugural Dublin Book festival took place in City Hall, Dublin, from Friday 6th until Sunday 8th March. It seemed a fine success and definitely attracted a fair amount of media attention.
For me, the most exciting event of the festival was the panel discussion on the future of Irish publishing with Seán Ó Cearnaigh of Clé (The Irish Publishers Association) in the chair. The other three panel members were Michael Gill (Gill & Macmillan), Michael O’Brien (The O’Brien Press) and Conor Kostick (Author and Chair of the Irish Writers’ Union).
Although the format was a little staid (not Seán Ó Cearnaigh's fault as he 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. There is real value in panel discussions like this one.
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.
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 governments messing with pricing tools. I also think the concepts that support price maintenance are flawed.
342 offers manifestly improved sales, and promotes readership: price discounting for all that there are legitimate concerns about it, has a place in retailing and banning it is a useless exercise that leads to crazy situations like Amazon being sued for free shipping in France.
Overall the level of discussion was good, in the sense that it didn't collapse into petty disagreement. Both Michaels came across as informed and forward looking. Given that the Festival is in its first year, I can see this getting better and better. This event carried promise of more open, honest and provocative debate in the future. Who could be against that?